This week, I’ve had the honor of being in lots of conversations with lots of writers about this life we lead – the one where our words are a priority, where we battle our fears about vulnerability and rejection, where we take the stories, the lashes, the memories that haunt us and write them out in letters.
As we talk, I hear a great deal of what I whisper in the dark corners of my own writing hours – “I will be a ‘real writer’ if I publish something.” “I will be successful if I can make a living as a writer.” “I can’t write that because it’s too hard and people may not like it.” Writers are solitary creatures, often, but our fears and challenges are archetypal. Joseph Campbell knew this.
This week, I have also been reading Seth Haines’ beautiful memoir Coming Clean*, and I’ve just come to the pages where he leans into mystery and lets healings not brought about, babies not born, wars not averted, divorces not thwarted still be within the scope of love. And given that writing is what I do and is the bulk of my days, I am carrying this idea of mystery against my shoulder blades. I’ve hoisted it on like a backpack because I know it has something important to say to me . . . I’m still figuring out what.
As I sit here in the hush of a gentle snow on the farm, I think mystery has something to do with not knowing a lot of things but maybe most importantly, not knowing the who on the other end of the tether that is our writing. We don’t know who reads our words. We don’t know who is helped, changed, bolstered, challenged by them. We don’t know what they say to their friends about them or the lines they underline or copy onto notecards to hang on their bathroom mirrors.
We don’t know how our words are used, carried, treasured, masticated, or spit out only to be scooped up later, washed off, and swallowed again.
That then, I think on this snowy morning, is the great mystery of writing, and perhaps it is a mystery we must embrace to continue – that even when we don’t know the who that breathes on our words after they leave us, we must trust they are there. . . . even if they are just us.
So friends, as we write today, perhaps we can lean into the mystery a bit, trusting that someone is there on the other side of our all those letters relieved against all that white background. And perhaps, if we do, we can let go a little of the tether and let it become, instead, the invisible trail of a jackdaw’s flight on a snowy day.
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