Last week, a fellow writer, new to my work, asked: “How did you get up the courage to write such things, reveal yourself so, well, nakedly?”
I write what I need to write; trusting that what comes forward is what needs to be said. At times, while writing some of the poems in my book, I wanted to crawl underneath my desk and hide. I resisted that urge by assuring myself I didn’t have to share what I was writing with anybody–I just had to get it on the page. I’ve always resonated with that line from the Gnostic Gospels: if you bring forth what’s inside you, it’ll save you–if you don’t, it’ll destroy you. Writing helps not only save, but transform me.
Publishing what I wrote was another story. Throughout the years, I worried not only about what people would think of me, but I also worried my husband might leave me, my friends would hate me, and my parents would disown me. I worried I’d be destitute, homeless, locked up–all sorts of crazy things.
I asked the What-will-they-think-of-me question for many years. And then one day, I asked a different question: What do I think of me?
So much of what I feared others thought of me reflected deep, inner demons. So I brought light to those gremlins, exposed them, gave myself as much love and compassion as I could. This helped me understand that no part of my experience was shameful, and that I wasn’t a bad person for doing the things I’d done, nor was I an exhibitionist for writing about them. Yes, I wrote about sex, but never with the intention to arouse—I simply wanted to make sense of that important part of my life, and writing about it was the best way for me to do that.
When one person bears witness to his or her truth honestly, with integrity and courage, healing takes place not only for the writer, but also for the reader. Most of the feedback I’ve received about my book confirms this. My work isn’t for everyone, but many readers have told me it’s a balm because it gives them permission to accept themselves the way they are, and embrace parts of themselves they never thought they could.
I always imagined that by the time I hit 45, I’d have books in the world, so when that magic number came and went, and my manuscripts lay in boxes in the garage, I felt not only that I had failed, but also that I was a failure. This thought created chronic stomach problems, and I thought I was going to die. I resonated deeply with Indian poet, Tagore’s, words: “For years I have been stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I have come to sing remains unsung.” I hated the idea of leaving this planet without accomplishing what I’d come here to do. But I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing. I thought I’d known. I’d thought I was supposed to write books. But since that dream hadn’t materialized, and since I knew I was a bright, capable person, I wondered if I should seek fulfillment elsewhere. I continued scribbling in my journal, but quit writing stories and poems, and addressed my most pressing concern: the pain in my stomach. Instead of taking prescription drugs, I radically changed my diet and became a raw vegan.
I then began yoga and meditation practices, found a spiritual community, and earned a degree in Spiritual Psychology from The University of Santa Monica. I learned there is no such thing as failure—only opportunities for growth, that our bodies are wise teachers, and symptoms, a call to action, not only on the physical level, but mentally and spiritually as well. I began, for the first time, to think of myself as a divine being having a human experience. Compassion came with this awareness, along with clarity. I knew I loved writing, and what I loved was my path, so I learned how to release judgments, look fear in the eye, and forgive myself for misunderstandings, such as believing I had failed. Releasing that thought, released me. Having the courage to engage in work I love—no matter what—is its own brand of success. What matters is what I think. What matters is faith, in myself and in the Universe, and in the understanding that my work is unfolding in divine right order. Life is not a contest or a race. It is not a proving ground or a school in which I’m being graded. But it is filled with lessons, so I keep showing up, pencil in hand.
I recently read a wonderful blog post by Jill Jepson (Writing As A Sacred Path) that talks about the freedom one finds in pinpointing one’s natural genre as a writer. Jill said she felt relieved when she realized she wasn’t a poet, and spoke of a poet who relaxed the day she understood she wasn’t a novelist. Of course many writers cross genres, myself included. In an interview with Lori A. May, Lori, noting I write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, asked, “How do you balance all your writing interests.”
My response was, “I don’t balance them–they balance me! I find it helpful working on several projects simultaneously. If I’m stuck on one I go to another. The important thing is to keep writing. Sometimes I need time and space away from a project in order to gain perspective and clarity. My poems are narrative, so fiction and creative nonfiction don’t seem like much of a stretch–it just depends on how much territory I want to cover. A poem can be about something miniscule–an image or a moment. It can even tell a story, but its scope tends to be small. When I have something larger (or longer) to express, it usually takes the form of fiction or creative nonfiction. When I was growing up as a dancer, my teacher encouraged her students to study various techniques: ballet, modern, jazz, flamenco. She used to say, “a dancer is a dancer is a dancer,” which meant that properly trained dancers should be able to perform many techniques, because each one is a tool that enables greater artistic expression. Those were the days when Mikhail Baryshnikov blew everybody away dancing Twyla’s Tharp’s ‘Push Comes To Shove.’ It’s the same with writing; each genre offers the writer a different tool and expands possibilities for creative expression.”
What do you enjoy writing? If you’re not sure, don’t sweat it, just write. Whatever needs to come out will. Let your stories reveal themselves to you. Try and let go of the outcome and needing to be seen one way or another. It helps if you discard ambition and what you think you’re supposed to be writing. Trust what comes forward. Navigate from the inside out. Quit trying to prove anything to anybody. There is nothing to prove. You are enough. Create what must be created. Just show up. Surrender. If you’re a control freak like me, I know how challenging this can be, but control is an illusion. Give up the illusion of control. Listen to and trust voices that come. Do not judge them. You cannot do everything at once, but doing one thing at a time with love and attention is enough. It doesn’t matter what you write. Nurture and cultivate your practice. Sit down and listen. Allow yourself to be led.
The Dobermans of my mind
must be called off
and I am the only one who can do it--
quit walking into wind and craggy maws,
surrender inane, toxic chatter,
the arsenic of doubt.
I must heed Rumi’s advice:
sell my tongue and buy
a thousand ears
when Spirit steps near
and begins to speak
to the deep ear in my chest.
Only my heart can receive this gift.
Only my heart can save this day.
I hope it remains open,
lends me its muscle,
and nestles me in its chambers,
where cropped ears and barking
do not exist,
and my mind is a well-tended garden
sprouting jasmine, birds of paradise