Wednesday, July 17, 2013
To Write or Not to Write...
I'm a writer...really--look at my profile! So then, one would assume I write, right? Yeah, not so much. Oh, I write this blog which I love, although this nasty hot and humid Summer has found me sprawled in front of a fan with a book rather than in the office with the computer. I'm part of a new collective group of bloggers writing from a Goddess-centric perspective (my blog there is called Day by Day). I write the occasional essay for Sagewoman magazine, and once in a great while, a poem will spring from my pen. And that's it. Doesn't make me much of a writer, huh?
Funny thing is, I've always wanted to be a writer, since my earliest days of shamelessly plagiarizing The Bobbsey Twins at the age of 7, and discovering haiku when I was 8 years old. From even that young age, I wanted to be able to write in a way that would make people say "that's exactly how I feel, but I didn't know how to put it into words!". Something has always stopped my attempts at it, a monster as insidious as mildew in a Summer like this one, with dozens of small razor sharp teeth, judgemental blood-shot green eyes, an evil, grating whisper of a voice whose every word is like barbed wire shredding flesh and spirit, a shape-changer who can assume the guise of stranger, critical friend, trusted parent, even--especially--the face in the mirror. Fear of Failure is the demon's name, and he's held me captive for decades. Once in a while, I'd muster the strength and will to slip from his grasp, to run barefoot through the forest exalting in my escape, tossing glances over my shoulder and ducking ominous shadows, searching for pen and paper. But always he would hunt me down and drag me back into the dark, wordless dungeon. Sometimes the monster was truly seductive, reminding me oh so silkily, if one never tries, one can never fail; isn't that right? Why put yourself through that? In a world simply bursting with real writers, why expose what a poor imitation you truly are? You're safe here with me....
This past weekend, when I was at a very low point, stressed about work to the point of breaking, Linda asked me a question. Ashling, if you could do something, anything else, what would it be? And what would you need to do to make that happen? And once more the answer I've been giving for 45 years echoed in my head. I want to write. Coincidentally (or not so much coincidence?), the day before she asked me this I had picked up my copy of The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron off the altar where it has lain untouched for over a year, and begun reading it, and had actually done two days of Cameron's foundational exercise--morning pages. This week Linda's question and my rote answer have run through my brain in an endless cycle. The monster's words chase the answer, but in a voice oddly like my own. It's the same old story: be safe, don't try. Dabble if you must, but stop calling yourself a writer, stop saying "I want to be a writer" like some tutu-wearing four year old declaring she wants to be a princess when she grows up.
But a strange thing happened this morning as I was rather petulantly doing my morning pages on the porch, wondering why I'm bothering, what it will accomplish. Another voice, shaking a little but sweet and clear, piped up. So what? What would 'failure' look like and what would it change?
"What would it change?" the demon roared. "She would finally know she's a failure, that her dream has been a waste of time, an impossibility, a bad joke!"
"You haven't answered the question. What would failure be? She doesn't publish the great American novel? She isn't declared the next Mary Oliver? She doesn't win the National Book Award? Those particular fantasies might not come to pass, but how necessary are they? If she wants to write, to touch others' souls, "to write in a way that would make people say 'that's exactly how I feel, but I didn't know how to put it into words'", it's time. The days, the years spin by faster and faster....the real truth is it's now or never.
The demon's sly smirk grows triumphant. "Then never it is!"
Ummm...hang on just a minute. NEVER? Never to write? Never to break free of the monster? To spend every moment of the rest of my life in its embrace? Seductively safe, maybe....but with some pretty awful morning breath, ya know. I'm not so sure about never....I'm not willing to commit to never. Never is forever, and I just don't think I'm okay with that. It's about damned time I kick the monster to the curb, don't you think? What do I have to lose? So what if I 'fail', whatever that looks like.
At least I'll go down fighting.