A friend asked me this question over coffee at the beginning of the new year except neither one of us was drinking coffee, he with his empty Mickey Mouse mug and me with a tall cup of tea.
I leaned back in my wrought iron chair and began to think back to those days when I’d write chapter and chapters of fantastical stories – there was The Remote Control and, later, The Remote Control II, in which a child discovered that her life could be played out like a worn down VHS tape that she could rewind, pause, and fast-forward. When she fast-forwarded to the end, she realized the reel abruptly cut off in her thirties.
You guessed it. She had to solve her own murder.
Here was a world in which things worked out in the end, the bad guy got his due, and loose ends were tied. (In case you were wondering, she was able to solve her own murder before it happened and rewrite her VHS ending.) When I wrote a screenplay in high school about a female serial killer – are we sensing a theme here? – I was channeling the anger and fear and sense of powerlessness I felt as a teenage girl. Framing a story into a beginning, middle, and end was a way of making the senseless more sensible.
Writing, it seems, has always been an existential sorting – you are not worth telling and yes, you, I want to carry. It is remembering the right things, that put in the right context, take on new skin, transformed.
Isn’t this the nature of all sacred texts?
I write for me. It is for my memory – and my sanity and my anxiety and my creativity and my everything’s going to be alright. Yes, yes, yes, it is even, you could say, therapeutic. Perhaps this is why sharing it has been so difficult. Who wouldn’t love the generous praise that comes? But a harsh critique wounds deeply, sticking its thumb in that lie that never scabbed over: “You will always be misunderstood.” Anger, fear, and powerlessness. All the re-framing I’ve done threatens to snap like a house built of Popsicle sticks.
I’m not sure I know another way. My internet muse, the courageous Amanda Palmer, says, “We can only connect the dots that we collect, which makes everything you write about you. … Your connections are the thread that you weave into the cloth that becomes the story that only you can tell.”
It’s easier these days to call myself a writer when others are more apt to do the same. The work I’ve been able to do on the anthology Talking Taboo has been rich and rewarding; we just wrapped up a campaign on Indiegogo that raised over $5000 – not quite our goal but more than we had before the campaign started! And the book doesn’t even come out until October.
Now I’ve begun work on a new manuscript on the theme of belonging – to a church, to a marriage, to each other – and why it’s so hard for the commitment-phobic and affiliation-averse among us. I’m thrilled that it’s going to be published in late 2014 / early 2015 by InterVarsity Press.
Of course I am grateful to be validated for doing the work I love. But in some ways signing a book contract simply feels like a good excuse to be disciplined over the next few months and, later, a good way to welcome a wider community into my cloth. It is not what makes me a writer.
Writing is a choice, a discipline, a showing-up not unlike church or marriage or all those things we know don’t just happen because we feel like it. You know you are a writer when you choose to be a writer. I know it when I carve out two days a week where nothing goes on the schedule and no one can reach me on the phone and only the dog – languid on the couch – warrants my pity. I know it when someone asks me what I do at a dinner party and I say, “I am a writer,” and it doesn’t matter if it’s books or blogs or journal entries because it’s what I do and it’s who I am and I can’t not do it. I don’t know what to say when people ask, “Do you enjoy it?”
It’s more like exercise, I tell them.
I enjoy it when it’s over.
Things will be quieter on the blog for the next few months while I take a break from writing for immediate publication and sort out my story. I’m asking myself, “What would I say if I could say anything? What I would I tell if I had to tell no one? What would I hear if I stopped and listened?”
A voice. Still and small, I hope, and preferably singular.