Writers can treat their mental illnesses
- KURT VONNEGUT
How do you hold onto your inspiration in the midst of all you face, and learn to be an inspiration every day to others?
It’s what we all want down deep, maybe more than anything else. But nothing else seems more difficult.
Everyone wants to live from their deepest purpose. But life seems to continually get in the way.
As I was writing, a bird banged into one of my big windows. Ignore it, keep going. It’s just a bird, not a person. What could I do anyway? Such a small thing in the grand scheme.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
I go back to writing. All of us carry grief. We suffer greatly. Tragedy strikes again and again and we think, Ignore it and keep going. It doesn’t change anything. What can I do anyway?
We continually try to make the biggest hurts into small things.
Life barrels forward, full of big problems, big issues. We want to do what’s right, and it seems more important to stay focused, undistracted from the goal. In the face of pain and struggle, pressing on is a sign of strength, a com-fort (literally, “with strength”). It helps others carry on. Keeping on is how we make our lives matter most.
But even as I write those words, I sense the problem. How can anyone be an effective channel of inspiration if he won’t slow down and pause for what seems small? It may not be a distraction at all.
The world is too big, the problems too widespread. And my words are paltry, but at least I’m doing something….
I go out to search for the bird.
I look around the garden, thinking about the post I’m writing and trying not to get distracted or lose the thread. I’m trying to write against the pull to help a little bird.
But there’s something else here to find. Something I’ve been afraid of.
I finally find it under a bush. Just a little thing, broken and still. Life is completely a confusing tangle. And my fragile plans are largely defenseless in the onslaught.
White feathers and thin legs, upside-down in the dirt. I go back in to get a bag. I’ve always been a bit of a mess. Of course, I know, and that hasn’t kept me from writing, or from agreeing to teach others how to do it.
Maybe more often than protecting my fragile schedule from the “small” distractions and pricks of pain, I’m protecting my fragile heart.
I scoop it up and take it inside. It hardly weighs a thing. Its loudest, biggest moment, it’s greatest impact on anyone may have been at impact with my bedroom office window.
I’ve collected journals my whole life, filled over 30 now with scribblings, from 1984 to the present. As life has pressed in, and words have come out. The need to respond, to get things out, to catch it all and try to understand it, express it, just not out loud–this has been my major occupation. I help others write about things they haven’t resolved yet, long-past and recent, searching for clarity. And meanwhile, I’ve always struggled not to think it’s just a self-focused preoccupation.
It is and it isn’t. Both are true. And there’s a tension here, a higher purpose, and a pretty low one.
I set the bird on the counter and snap a few photos. So perfectly made. Look at the precision. Such a greater creation than my pile of journals, but the same question: How much has all of this mattered? Where’s the meaning in it?
Everything remains unresolved. And this seems exactly what my writing is all about: how to hold things together while everything is tangled up and time is unraveling.
I’ve written searching for answers to life, to my emotional issues, to resolve competing ideas and get free of barriers. I never expected it to produce good stories or reveal meaning.
Maybe just a little meaning.
DId I miss a step somewhere? I’ve kept the pile on my desk to remind me to come back and decide what’s to be done with all this.
Everything I’d collected, all the words I tried to use to make time stand still. They never let me catch up, or finally understand my life. But it’s guided me to broken places that needed healing. Like this bird, it’s jolted me out of distraction and reconnected me to the more important thing.
I never understood how someone could live without writing–how could they manage all this themselves? All this feeling?
Did this bird have to die for me to discover greater life?
I’ve failed over and over to write what’s real. I’ve lived constantly overwhelmed by the intensity of feeling, and every moment could be the pinnacle of everything if we could just see it clearly, and capture it before the clarity fades again like a wavering mirage.
Summer is fading into fall outside the window.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st…
I can’t do this myself. I know this. Who but God can help me sort this out and take the next step?
The old journals, full of the fleeting thoughts of my unbecoming becoming, they’ve been prayers. Slowing and pausing to reflect is the work. And I’ve shirked the work often. And I live with the emptiness of that. Ignore your life and you miss the most important thing. Shirk the work and you forfeit the only way the puzzle pieces can ever complete the whole picture.
Someday you’ll be able to step back from it and see it all in its proper light. If you aren’t afraid to feel where you still fear, and seek it out with the power of God’s truth and love.
Fear (awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
This is the crucial point. The whole thing is one giant journey of discovery. And finding the next bit of treasure, the next reward of the next step, only comes from open-handed living.
I can’t let the rush to move on make me miss it. If I don’t seek God in my writing time, I reject my life as unimportant, disconnected–just some events, some concepts, some people. So much loss. So much silencing of the voice of God in my life.
I don’t want to miss my next step. Paying attention is hard, and diminishing the diminutive has been my habit. I’ll never know real life if I don’t accept my responsibility to stay on the hunt. Much as I want to believe I’m untethered to this, unaffected by it and all the messy relationships everything has with everything else, much as I fear this will only make me crazier, I know this is only fear’s shadow passing.
There’s a bigger world yet to come….!
I wrap up the bird and take it back to the garden, return it for the girls or Sheri to find.
And I say a prayer for God to be with me, here in my fear. The temptation to pass it all by is so strong. I know now that ignoring it is ultimately only seeking death. Face your fears. And the reward of the effort is greater understanding.
Above all, gain understanding…If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
I go back inside and thank God for the bird, for saving me yet again. I pray for help to take this next step and I write out the words, trusting they won’t complicate it but simplify, and somehow reveal a beautiful design not my own.
I pray to keep on, seeking to find all the words he’s placed for me.
And I can do this. I can write and I can care because I’ve been cared for.
Far more than birds.
For the higher purpose,