My computer hums on my lap. Next to me, my phone buzzes, and Twyla Tharp’s book on “the creative habit” sits with my glass of wine on the side table.
Behind me is the big window with the tree in full leaf. Beneath the window is the bookshelf stuffed to overflowing with all the books I’m unable to stop pretending I’ll eventually get to read, the best of the best that have stayed with me for reasons mysterious and intentional.
Though life is busy and full of wonderful thinking, I worry what I have to share this week isn’t very interesting.
“To the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place,” as Rilke said. And what writing well really takes is the ability to ignore the doubts and press on in describing the objects that surround us, for they hold our dreams and our truest selves.
To write well, we must struggle, and not least of all because we believe we have to know what we’re doing. And we think that to know what to do, we have to ensure we have all the right conditions perfectly lined up, when really all we need is to look at the space before us and see in it what’s really true. If we can merely do that well, then we apply the right effort and we succeed. Writing well could become inevitable if only we’d stop trying so hard to write well.
Ah, but knowing what’s really true requires really seeing, and this is what we need above all else.
Once we commit—and I don’t pass this off lightly—then we must look hard enough into the story of our lives that’s contained in these objects around us and consider these the relevant props in our current situation.
A computer. A phone. A book on creativity. A glass of wine. A table. A window. A bookshelf full of books.
What do these tell you? Can I describe them so it’s clear, so that you can assess what you need to understand about my life from these clues?
Collectively, they may signify a life lived in dedication to the freedom books offer.
On Saturday, I posted a status update on Facebook about how it can feel working on a book I believe could help many people heal. It’s always the author’s healing journey first, yet most of us who write have trouble because we’re broken and blocked by pain and resentment. We can seem fine day to day, but as soon as things get challenging, we cramp up and clamp down. The books on writing don’t often say we have to be healed first to write well and true about ourselves. And so that’s what I’ve chosen to say, believing our words must first be for us but once they’ve healed us, they must be fully matured and become universal, not so dedicated to our own welfare.
This is why my room matters today. And what’s here with me matters—because learning to write well is what I’m doing here while my family pursues other things downstairs. I’m here to face the truth of myself and my dreams and many weaknesses, in hopes it will heal me further and I might grow to see my life more broadly, more universally, that it might be more useful and inspiring. A simple story of a man typing out words to show the things he keeps for this work he pursues, as Annie Dillard says, trying to make all the necessary efforts to become a sail to catch the solar wind.
If we do it right, that is, if we do it daily, this work changes us. And that changes everything. The way I live, and the way I think of myself and all my relationships has grown by my picking up these props for the words I pursue.
They show that I’ve dedicated myself to achieving this big dream of being free. And yet I’m confident that if I can continue, the objects and even the words themselves won’t be so important in the end. For the true benefit will be something else entirely….
“The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price…But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought…I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.” – Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek