Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to be a Writer, ctd.

[I'm getting caught up on things, but I'm trying to not do more than ten entries a day. This is an exception.]

I don't really think of myself as a "writer", although that's an unfair self-assessment. When asked if I'm a musician (and this has happened a few times this summer, usually when I'm with the director of music or members of the choir) I tend to answer that I'm not professionally but think we all are if we're empowered to be. I think that everyone is a writer if they're empowered to be. Like all of us being musicians, that doesn't mean we'll all be professionals or that it'll all be good. But I don't think of myself as a writer the way I think of two friends from high school or my mom as writers.

But when I read M. Molly Backes's bit on how to be a writer last week I got nostalgic and thought about my own upbringing. My mom is a great writer, I think. I know that I'm a little biased. But when I was at home I made a point of finding some poems on floppy discs or ten-year-old backup CD-ROMs and saving them both to my computer and to mom's computer. I wanted to keep them. I have memories associated with them, and they have meant things to me in the past. They still do.

So as I read Molly's list of do's and don't's I thought about my mom and how those things were part of growing up. Our TV time was limited. We played outside. We earned TV time by reading. We earned it by writing letters. We lost it by arguing too much as siblings. We lost it for back-talking. We were sent to be outside for back-talking. We had to learn on our own how not to be bored, without a screen in front of us. When I got to college I pretty much stopped watching TV. I will watch things on DVD or Netflix, but rarely do I turn a television on just to watch.

I had secrets and a job and failures. I remember growing up always feeling like whatever I wrote in a journal (on the rare occasion that I was keeping one) was my own; I never worried that Mom was going to pry. I was never concerned that she would read my mail. There were a few times when she didn't want me to get mail from certain people, but she never opened the letters, just wanted them to be the last.  My failures were all my own; Mom wanted me to succeed and I was very hard on myself. I don't remember her telling me to not be so hard on myself (more to not be so hard on her and my brothers and to lighten up), but I don't know that it would've done any good. I'm thankful that I never felt called to write angsty poetry, but how she suffered through some of my high school things that I thought were so good is now a mystery to me.

I am also realizing that having to read and having to write letters has helped me where I am. I had to have an imagination and I loved escaping to Nancy Drew's mystery or the Old Ones searching for the golden harp. Preaching is imagination. As Patrick Malloy writes in Celebrating the Eucharist (Church Publishing: 2009, 77), "[T]he preacher's ultimate task is to explore how God is doing now what God was doing then...[the sermon] is about the current presence and action of the God whose presence and action are attested to in Scripture."(emphasis in original) That doesn't mean you make things up. It does mean that a preacher has to look for God's action, to look beyond both easy answers and what is easily seen.

That looking can be helped with one's experiences and being willing to see that-which-might-be. As much as I hated turning the garden over by hand, I had the experience of planting. And now I can talk about the difference between how we planted a garden and how the sower recklessly casts seeds. I find myself writing more lately, though often in the form of correspondence. In that writing I imagine a time of expectation or surprise, where we don't know that someone is typing on the other end. All the mail I've gotten from the States this summer has been a surprise. Had no idea it was coming but quite glad to get it and write back. I try to not tell people that I've sent them a post card so they might experience the surprise.

I'm glad for a lot about growing up that's shaped my writing. Having to read a lot was a big part of it. Having to write not just at school or home as part of assignments, but also having to write letters to grandma to earn TV time or write letters to classmates because Mom didn't want us yakking on the [landline] phone. Now people can attest from seeing the writing happen or getting the result, that I still write... and we can all do that. Writing takes time to form thoughts and organize them. Even writing an email can be a joy.

We're all writers. We're all musicians. What writing have you done lately?

No comments:

Post a Comment