July 2014 • On Learning To Write

On Friday mornings, I work with some clients of a local non-profit who are preparing for their GED. Before my class begins, the room is used by another young man to teach creative writing. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of such a class for several months. I want to show up an hour early one morning and sit with them and learn. Even though I write this column and am attempting to write my dissertation, I don’t necessarily think of myself as “a writer.” Writers know what they’re doing. I’d be very hesitant to claim such a thing about my monthly attempt to pluck an idea out of the sky and to string words around it in hopes of producing something cogent. For most of my writings, I simply try not to be an embarrassment to my parents, especially as I am prone to voicing my own strong opinions. For these reasons, I don’t think of myself as a writer, and I’m increasingly fascinated by whatever it is that the creative writing class is doing when it meets. “They are writers,” I tell myself. “They know what they’re doing, or, at least, they’re learning what real writers do,”…or so goes the critical voice in my mind. I’m thinking on these things this month because, well, my deadline is here, and I can’t sit forever in front of a blank screen. But I’ve also been more thoughtful about the practice of writing as I’ve watched, from a distance, my younger cousin explore her desire to write. I don’t know if she’s written much, which is because I’m awful at staying in touch with people, and I’m also aware that writers, whether real or not, can be rather sensitive when asked about their progress. I certainly am. Regardless, in seeing my cousin think more carefully about her identity as a writer, I also see myself. On a good day, I hope that our respective efforts at writing are in concert with other folks who also try to look meaningfully at their world and to look deeply within themselves. Though I don’t necessarily like what I see when I direct my gaze in an inward fashion, I’m learning that the desire to do so is a good and necessary thing on the long road of our spiritual journeys. I think my cousin senses that, too. Writing is just one particular method through which we can attempt to bring out from within ourselves that which animates us and gives us life. Engaging our spirit in such a way means that we find ways to celebrate the elements of beauty and creativity that is within every human being. It also means that we learn to acknowledge and make peace with those demons and memories and losses and self-destructive tendencies that are also lurking about within the darker corners of every soul. Of course, there are many different ways people can engage the process of tending to their spiritual health. Not everyone enjoys the task of writing. (I’m not always sure if I do.) Some people paint, or walk around in the woods, or dig in their gardens. Still others cook delicious food, or pick a guitar, or type witty tweets in 140 characters. Some students in my classes do this through poetry or spoken word or other performance arts. Whatever it is that nourishes our souls and leads us to live in the world in a more thoughtful manner, these would seem to be good things. God, then, seems to be less like One who harshly stands alongside of us, critically judging our efforts, and more like One who is ever accepting of our work, even when it’s not very good or is less than inspired. The point is not to craft a perfect piece of writing, or a perfect garden, or a flawless culinary delight, but rather that we learn to journey alongside God and neighbor, engaging our interests and talents in such a way that we bring more light and peace into our world. Perhaps that is what it’s all about.


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