Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On writing

It's always been there, this burning.  Deep in my belly.

I felt it first when I was about five, standing underneath that pine tree in the front yard, its limbs heavy with snow.  That day I realized that falling snow makes a sound and that the world opens up space for that whispering.  There was a burning then and it kept me warm.

I felt it next in fourth grade.  There was a creative writing exercise in which I wrote a fantastical piece on purple snow and how it tasted like grape Kool-Aid. Everyone in my class thought it was amazing but I just scratched my head.  But there was that burning again, like a glowing ember.

It was in eighth grade that Mrs. Hansborough taught us the beauty of the essay.  I didn't understand why everyone struggled so in that class.  Writing the required weekly essays felt like swimming to me.  It was the most natural thing in the world.  The strokes and the laps were work, yes, but the water felt like home and I was buoyed by the dancing waves.

Mrs. Hansborough recommended me for a writing competition that year and so one day, I sat in a room all by myself with "my favorite space" as a writing prompt.  That was easy.  Clearly I would write about the tree tops and how they called to me.  I would write about the ginko that almost touched the sky and how the limbs grew like a ladder to heaven and in the fall, I stared glory in the face as the leaves dripped gold all around.

But then, I felt it distinctly.  There was a tugging, pulled tighter by doubt and questions, and then a surge of cold water rushed in, drowning my head and my heart and leaving me gasping for air.  And I fumbled around trying to find that gleaming but it was gone somehow.  Drenched by the frigidity of forced air.

So, like a mindless, heartless robot, I wrote something about my dog rather than about the treetops and it was terrible and the whole time I felt like I had a gun to my head.  And, of course, I didn't even place in the competition.  The girl that wrote a short story about her dead brother, she won, of course.  I went home that day and climbed my ginko and let the icy wind blow hard on my belly.

In high school, I caught the scent of wood smoke and I was at once comforted and invigorated.  I began scratching out poems ridden with adolescent angst and it was glorious and freeing and ridiculous.
My words became like bellows and I was privately consumed by the flames and I felt like Joan of Arc.

Then came college and, with it, an intense spiritual crisis that would take me years to work through, not to mention the thousands of pages of other people's writing that I was required to read.  There wasn't room for the burning in my belly all of those years.  Even after I met that girl down the hall with the swinging hair and bright lips who was majoring in Creative Writing, I found myself incredulous.  I remember uttering soundlessly to myself, "You can actually do that?!? Major in writing?"

And perhaps that was when the gavel came down hardest, sending coals and embers scattering to the four winds. When I asked myself who I was fooling.  When I determined that I was not wise enough or well-read enough or clever enough to keep up the charade.  That I didn't drink enough or smoke enough or get around enough to write well.  I wasn't grizzly enough or eccentric enough.

This changeling wasn't enough. And that was the end of that.

But that smoldering wick could not be snuffed out.

My life grew and evolved. I walked with intention in the wilderness and the desert. I experienced pain and struggle and exultation. I gave myself away and, in return, I was given a hundredfold blessing in return. I split apart and life was given.  I died and I was reborn.

And all of that became like kindling.

+++++++

These days I find myself a fire keeper.  And although some days it feels as if that fire will burn me right through, I step closer.

That fire has grown stronger now that I have joined other wayfarers. We gather around burning barrels for warmth, for light, for connection.  Each of us keeps the fire going for each other and sometimes the flames are so bright they singe and crisp. But it is the low, slow burn that everyone knows and keeps alive.  A hobo camp we might be, but we take care of our own.

And it is all clear now.

Where there is fire, there is life.


33 comments:

  1. Friend, Can I get back to you....I just lost my way and lost my breath. And beauty makes me quiver. Will write when my heart steadies about how these dancing firey words of yours pierce.

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  2. a hobo camp, indeed.
    hovered hungrily around compassion's holy fire and the Word that is alive.
    so glad you didn't let the heat be doused, friend.
    so, so glad.

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  3. oh yeah, and as i think about it, what would you say is the difference between writing with a gun to your head and writing out of the burn? would you say it's self-consciousness? trying to force art? chaining what needs to be free?
    i resonated with that part for sure. interested in your perspective, holly.

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  4. I'm often jealous of people like you who had the embers stoked so early. I never knew I was a writer until later in life, when someone told me to be one before I wrote. I know that's a bit odd, at least it seems that way to me. You do have quite a gift Holly and God holds on tight to calling, even when we take wrong turns.

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  5. You are welcome here any time, my friend. Come when you are ready.

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  6. Kelli,
    The "gun to my head" was referring to the forcing of something into a shape dictated by others, or, more likely, my perception of said dictation. The burning is my voice, that shakes and quivers at times, but nonetheless glows fiery red and hot.
    Thank you for your comments and questions. I love the dialogue!

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  7. Oh Shelly, that's what is so crazy though....it was this burning, yes, but it wasn't until recently that I really understood what it was all about and that I fully opened up to it. It was in the recollecting of the above mentioned periods that helped me come to a full acceptance that I have been a writer all along. Does that make sense?

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  8. ooh, this haunts in the best ways. wayfarers, we. this is lovely.

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  9. I can breath now. I love so much about this but mostly your heart, your head, your passion all colliding gracefully but with a burn, as He made your call and your gifts so beautifully clear. Beauty here. Your sharing them is a HUGE gift in my world.

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  10. yes, wayfarers are we...

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  11. Oh, Holly... wow.... I am breathless and made of fire and swirling with that icy wind all at once while I read this. Me too, me too, me too. Absolutely beautiful. So glad you share the gift with us.

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  12. Cara,
    Thank you. How wonderful to be affirmed by others shared experience. This is that hobo camp of which I spoke. So beautiful.

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  13. Keep breathing, friend :)
    Love your presence here, always.
    Thank you.

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  14. Tears. Your writing is so beautiful.

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  15. PS: But I don't love the word "hobo." I've actually been talking to my kids about the word, because they've picked it up somewhere. It hurts my heart when I hear it. These are my friends ... I understand that this is not your heart in using the word, but it evokes so much in me, I'll be honest. xoxo

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  16. Beautiful, beautiful picture Holly. Grateful for this fire.

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  17. sigh. i love how you caught the scent of wood smoke in high school...

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  18. Idelette,
    Honestly, I wavered on whether to use that word. When it came to mind, I flinched a bit because I, too, had only known that word as ugly and derogatory, used to further categorize those less fortunate as "lazy and worthless." But yet, the word kept coming to mind. So I looked it up and was fascinated by the history of the culture. I was especially struck by the concept of a "hobo" as "a worker that wanders." That idea must have been what was striking a chord down deep and I felt like, in many ways, it described me as a writer. If you are curious, you can read more here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobo

    But, I hear what you are saying and I take your thoughts to heart. Even if I would like to redeem a word, I can't ignore how my words may be taken. I appreciate you understanding my heart but I want to honor yours, as well. Thank you for your honesty, Idelette. Iron sharpens iron, right?

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  19. Holly,


    Can I just say that you are amazing? These words flow like a river and even as the scenery changes the river connects the scenes of your life. Wonderful wonderful. I have to be careful not to be jealous.


    I too had a 4th grade writing experience, in math class of all things. My mom still has the little fictional story. It's taken me years to embrace writing over math and science. I always thought the really smart kids studied the "hard sciences". Now I know better.


    You add beauty to my days.


    Thank you.

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  20. Eyvonne,
    I'm so glad that you embraced the writing! I'm not sure how much you would have added to my life thus far if you had chosen to work in a lab or something. I need your words and I am so thankful for them.
    And there must be something pivotal about 4th grade, don't you think? I know the fractions about killed me but there must have been other things going on there as well.....
    Love

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  21. Holly, I love this- I think it's funny (in a not quite funny way) that I feel the same way about art. And here I am, in my later years, coming full circle as an educator of art and worker that wanders as well. Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be for our kindling to be properly seasoned and burn well. I just hope that I can tend a fire as beautiful as yours. :)

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  22. In some ways I'm living a double life. I work as a network engineer and spend my days talking about ip addresses, network routes and firewall rules. I'm still just dipping my toes into writing and discovering what I might ought to have been doing all along.


    I so appreciate your encouragement.

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  23. "A worker that wanders ..." I really like that image and meaning and I can see how that applies in this context. I imagine that's the original and over the years, it's become a derogatory term. Thank you so much for explaining ... I did google it too, actually, before responding, but just came up with the more contemporary meanings. // Btw, I like that we can have a long conversation about one word. :-)

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  24. Wow... beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!! Thank you.

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  25. Thank you! I am honored that you came.

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  26. Tonya/Plain and Joyful LIvingSeptember 18, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    I have been working on finding my voice - you wrote just beautifully - thank you.

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  27. Holly, this: "That day I realized that falling snow makes a sound and that the world opens up space for that whispering. There was a burning then and it kept me warm."
    --I think I get that, friend. I've had that burning since a very, very young age, so far back I didn't know what I was supposed to do with it. I guess us writers think a little alike, huh? You think in a way that challenges and inspires me, makes me pause--thank you. And a hobo camp that takes care of our own? Heck yeah, I like that. Blessings and love.

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  28. Oh, sorry for jumping here, but oh yes, it makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing this. I've had a much similar experience in life. I laid on my bed in elementary and read, read, read and wrote poetry instead of playing outside. In highschool, I saw things differently than my peers--while they were blaring horns in the homecoming parade, I was watching Spider Lillies growing in fields through the window on my drive to school, and couldn't wait to get home to write about it. I forgot about writing for years while having babies and now I've fully embraced that yes, I'm a writer. ~smile~ You have sparked something--I think I'm going to write about this!

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  29. I hear you, Nacole. My children don't experience the world the same way I do. I realize now that I was a deeply thoughtful child. Not that my children aren't, too, it is just that their focus is different. It's amazing to me to think back now and realize that the way I studied nature was foundational to my writing today. I know that some days when I write I am pulling from a time long ago...

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  30. So thankful for others who understand....

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  31. Tonya,
    Thank you for your kind words. And keep working on that voice. The world needs it.

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