The problem with blogging – or writing in general - is that the less you do of it the harder it is to get back into it. That isn’t for lack of material. It’s because so much has cumulatively happened and so many thoughts have raced, uncaught, across your mind that just knowing how to begin becomes overwhelming. My oft-quoted hero, William Stafford, is helpful to me here. He said, “I don’t experience those times when I don’t have anything to write because I write whatever it is that occurs to me. Some writers experience difficulty that may be because their standards are too high. They feel they can’t write well enough. But I write anyway. I think that activity is important.” I appreciate the reminder, Bill, and I am going to resume the activity more consistently, even if it means lowering my standards. Rather than fret about subject matter or skill, and rather than brood about all the things I would have wanted to mention but which have since fled from memory, I am going to dive right in here and write.
I get discouraged about this blog sometimes. I know I have a faithful group of discerning readers, but I am aware that they are relatively small in number; this is not one of those blogs that generate thousands of daily hits, garner strings of comments, get linked and circulated throughout the blogosphere. It's not hip, newsy, or even particularly entertaining most of the time. Do I care? Not really. Well, sometimes maybe a little, but only when I compare myself to others. I don't even know why: I’m not writing this blog for attention or publicity, and I assure you I have nothing at all to sell. My little book of essays – anyone remember that? – is gone, all 200 of them sold or given away, and I’m done with that. The book I wrote for teachers, which was published by a prestigious academic press five years ago, sold about 9 copies last year, and I know that’s not a very good number, although I still believe it is a very good book. So I am not exactly a "successful" author, and I guess now and then I have to remind myself why I write, or simply observe how blank and flat and un-alive I feel when I am not writing. As has lately been the case…
I need to write because…writing helps me sort out the things that happen (or don’t happen); because it allows me to articulate my pain or my joy; because it gives me a way to communicate something of myself to others, even if they are few, who care to read the words; and because it enables me to eke out more from the experience of being here. Well-meaning friends often ask me, “What are you working on now?” fully expecting that I have a book or at least a substantial article in progress. If I do not, which is certainly the case right now, and may forevermore be the case for all I know, I feel as though I have no credibility as a writer, and I am embarrassed to say, “Only the occasional blog post.” Or emails to friends. Or journal entries and notes to myself. I just happen to enjoy and understand experience more fully if I am concurrently documenting it in some way; this seems counter-intuitive to enlightenment, but so be it.
In any case, I think it’s time for me to stop being apologetic and embarrassed about it, and just continue to do it, and with less restraint, less searching for justification, less yearning for external validation. My friend Jacquie Phelan recently sent me this quote from the brilliant Kay Ryan, current Poet Laureate of the U.S, and it is going to be my new mantra: “You really shouldn’t be living for a reaction all the time.”
Right on, Kay Ryan. Good advice for me. And I think it is equally important to stop comparing myself to others. I tend to choose geniuses and inevitably walk away immobilized by the awareness of my own mediocrity. But please allow me to quote one more literary giant, Orhan Pamuk, because this is a sentiment I share: “I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”
It’s as simple as that. I am happier when I am writing, and if that writing takes the form of a scribble of words that amount to naught, or a small blog post that might connect to a few hearts or heads out there, well, then, no need to apologize anymore.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my dear friend Vickie Gill and I are planning a class we will be co-teaching this summer. It’s called “The Teacher As A Writer and the Teaching of Writing” and we were brainstorming about what we hoped the teachers who enroll in this class would take away from it. One of the most important things, we decided, would be that they would understand the importance, or even the necessity, of writing in their own lives. Certainly the course, as is the South Coast Writing Project with which we are affiliated, is predicated on the premise that you cannot effectively teach writing if you never write. But for so many people, writing is painfully difficult and as appealing as medicine. I am hoping to help others see that writing in a personal way can be healing, surprising, satisfying. But I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to teach this class when I consistently devalue my own writing.
I need to go outside right now. But I’m coming back. And that’s a dangerous thing to declare out in the open.