Friday, December 30, 2011

Receiving Word


For the second time in as many days I have had someone write to me saying that something I have done or written has affected them dearly. The first instance was a student writing to me from out of the past about how our time together transformed her in many ways, how her writing then was a way forward, and that she no longer feels the confidence to write and fears what she might say. The second instance was a woman writing about her continuing lack of confidence in her writing, her worries about going public with things on the page. She said that she was impressed with what I was doing here, publishing daily and the like.

Two things come to mind out of these. One, writing is about having some confidence and two, there are so many people in our worlds who are proud of and impressed by the things we do, or they would be if they saw what we were doing.

I'll take the second one first and say that publishing is what we all should be doing. For me that means putting stuff on a blog each day, but it could be any number of things. My friend Chris Murray sells his landscape photography (and you should buy some at chrismurrayphotography.com). My mother makes quilts. And my friend Kristin mentors runners. Each of them puts a piece of themselves out in public and that allows others to notice the individual talent and talk back to the person about it. This isn't about getting attaboys, though that can be nice too. It is about sharing. It is about seeing the wonder in people around us. It is about being inspiring and being inspired. Right now, I'm sitting under one of my mother's blankets, looking at a photograph that Chris took, and wishing that I was out running with Kristin. At some point, today, tomorrow or the next, each of them will read something I've written here. It's a generous and kind thing to put ourselves out into the world. Doing so feeds others and feeds us.

Which brings me to writing and the two people who wrote to me over the past coupled days. It's interesting to me that both women were, in one form or another, under my tutelage. In each case, they saw me writing, hear my writing, read my writing, and I did the same with theirs. There is another woman, one I haven't heard from in a very long time whose experience seems to me the ultimate expression of what I would say on this subject and what I want to remember today. I'll call the woman E and let you know that this story happened a decade or so ago when I taught at Fayetteville-Manlius High School just outside of Syracuse.

E was in a creative writing class I was leading. Many of the writers there were high-powered and most of what I did was to read their stuff and have conversations with them about it. But some of the writers struggled mightily. E was one of those. She wrote haltingly, struggling with the notion that her words were not good enough, that she wasn't good enough. Eventually, she showed up in class with a paper from the Guidance office.

"You have to sign this," she said.

"What is it?"

"I'm dropping this class."

"Really?"

"Really," she said. "You just have to sign it."

"Nah," I said.

"What?"

"I'm not signing it."

"But you have to sign it. I'm dropping this class."

"You can drop the class," I said, "but I'm not signing the paper."

We went round and round on this for a while. She was not happy, then she was angry, then she was sad, and eventually, she cried. I squatted down next to her and said that I liked her writing, that I liked her as a writer. I told her that she just needed to keep writing. And then I told her again that she could quit the class, but I wasn't signing a paper or helping her quit.

She stayed and she wrote. She found herself as a writer.

If nothing else, publishing each day tells me that I'm a writer. I think of the two women who wrote to me and, were I to sit in a room with them, I would have them write with me. It would be great. We would write, we would read aloud, we would write a lot more. By the end of the day we would have filled pages and pages. Some of that stuff would be good, most of it would be crap, but all of it would let us know that we are writers, let others know that we are writers, and give us the confidence to write on and on and on.