What’s Really Left to Say?

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“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
– Graham Greene

It’s Saturday and I’m still working. I’m tired, worn out.

Tea, I think.

Lord knows, I’ve had plenty of coffee. And still the words on the screen are blurring.

Seems I’m never not working these days. Even now, I’m on my computer.

I head into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

I know too well the strain of a too-crowded mind. Maybe I ought to take that long walk.

The kettle snaps and cracks under the heat.

I’m lucky to have this job that allows me mid-morning tea. Gallup polls show one-fifth of American families struggled to afford food in 2013. As of January of this year, almost 50 million Americans live in poverty, by some counts the largest number ever….

Living out our belief in the messages of these books I work on, it’s a wonder we make it. The bills may have to go on credit cards again this month.

The reasons for this are numerous, of course. The trade off for my investment of time and attention on books is a difficult commodity to charge for. But it’s our income, our livelihood. And hence, the source of my untold stress.

Heat pours from the burner and I hold my cold hands over it. Thank you, God, for this inexpensive natural resource and the incredible investment it represents. I think such things to remember how fortunate I am. I need to remember.

The kettle whistles and I turn off the heat, find a hot pad, pull the stopper. Steam rises and the mug warms quickly in my hands. How many times have I performed this ritual since beginning the book?

Truthfully, this book has always been too much for me. I’ve felt this burning passion to write this story for well over a decade. But I knew I didn’t know how to write it. And it seemed no one could help me.

I find Charlotte in the living room and carry my weight silently and sit.

What really is there left to say?

I sit with my tea and look out the window. The best books are all written. Each of them a work of singular perfection, of perfect culmination. The best stories, the best subjects. So much more than my little contribution.

I can’t possibly add something useful. It’s all been said already. What’s the point of writing at all?

When all the stories you could tell have been told more eloquently and completely, what’s left to be said? Regardless of the details, there are few truly worthy in the end.

How can anyone think their words merit mass interest, faced with the glut of worthier lives?

I watch my Charlotte read by the window and pick up the book next to me, the one by an author who knows this struggle to find meaning in the word work. Bird by Bird. 

“You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.” 

Charlotte looks up from her book and suggests we go outside later to play in the sunny side yard. I smile and slap my knee. “What a perfectly fabulous idea!”

She smiles and goes back to reading, happy and oblivious.

And the thought comes: has she just provided my answer?

Maybe in the end, there’s only one thing left to do: to forget it all. 

Forget about all those other books, other people’s lives. Forget the result of someone else’s work and tireless effort. They too faced this fear and kept going. And now their work stands as a testament to the boundless human spirit just as mine will be. As untamable as the will behind all creation.

In the end, what else is there to be said?

To write, to be free, is to be alive. Maybe I need not work so hard to remember this, but only to forget everything I know, like a child with a book and not a care in the world. Would we call her stubborn? Would they say she’s “bad” for expressing her interests so single-mindedly?

Of course not. We’d know there’s play to be done. This play. This adventure will be had.

I watch her and think, Can I forget all my reasons, my excuses, and leave it all behind once again?

Don’t I know this by now: that I am the only one who can get me to forget?

“I love you, Dad.” She peers over her big book at me.

“You do?” I tease. “I love you too, kiddo.”

What is writing, in the end, but this very letting go of every other thought but the one that sits loosely in the open hand, the one that trusts that the words to speak will be there when we need them, whether anyone ever reads them or not?

What you’re writing, if it matters to you, it is good. And you will say that to yourself when you’re done: “That was good.”

Good. 

And it will be.

Wouldn’t I love the book more and give it my all if I wrote for this higher purpose? If regardless of all that’s been said, when I’m through, I simply wrote for the sheer unbridled pleasure of it? Then there might be this record of a journey to freedom to enjoy. And maybe, hopefully even the suggestion of freedom in a true companion, a lifter of our heads.

Maybe only when I do reach that land, that far distant shore, then, and only then, will I be able to say that I—myself—have said all there is to say.

The tea done now, I squeeze out the bag. Having given it all, it’s set aside. Nothing held back.

I blow and sip. And it’s perfect–strong and full, just how I like it.

“To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts is, How alive am I willing to be?” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

What might live if you can just forget all that limits you today? Will you go for it and write free?

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

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7 thoughts on “What’s Really Left to Say?”

  1. Words
    KPB

    As fruit flies round ripe apples
    Words crowd close to being
    Seeking meaning.

    Not yet ready to wave any away,
    I sound them, sniff,
    Scan for substance, select for essence
    To pin to the paper
    Try to catch, to match round
    Sound with sight with scent with sense.

    If I don’t know I can’t embrace it all,
    Maybe I can?

    Breathe deeply
    Take time
    Take care

  2. “What is writing, in the end, but this very letting go of every other thought but the one that sits loosely in the open hand, the one that trusts that the words to speak will be there when we need them, whether anyone ever reads them or not?”

    Yes, these words feel true to me, that what matters is the obedience to the writing, to letting go, and to trusting the instinct. Thanks for your transparency, Mick. It’s not about our feelings but our surrender.

  3. One of my favorite movies is Empire of the Sun – a WWII story about a highly intelligent and resourceful boy surviving a Japanese prisoner of war camp. His personality as an overthinker sets him apart from the other kids so he spends his time with adults. At one point they are being liberated and there are fighter planes flying over the camp. The boy is so overwhelmed at the experience of being set free after all he’d been through he loses his sanity for a little while, jumping and screaming. A doctor finds him and tries to bring him back to reality in the midst of gunfire and chaos. The only thing that brings him back is the doctor’s screaming plea…”try not to think so much!”

    It’s a moment I have replayed in my mind dozens of times when I find myself in my prison of thinking too much about external and internal feelings and words and worry about my task. I struggle with it almost daily as so many of us do. I have to stop the chaos and lay it all down in order to get back that unfettered freedom to write and enjoy my liberation.

    When I think of all the creative minds over the decades that fight the battle you spoke of, I am in awe of the magnitude of books and art that did finally come from minds set free. You have shown us all the wonder of creativity many times. God has given you this task of story writing, and I have no doubt in my mind you will complete it in collaboration with Him.

  4. In the midst of a deep emotional and spiritual rumble with myself and felt I was to come here and read the words you shared yesterday. I must tell you…

    “That was GOOD.”

  5. You’re all so encouraging. Thanks. It’s good to have supportive friends who know this struggle. And I just found this on my friend Jeanette’s wall–it’s wonderful and encompasses the desire we all have beneath this drive to capture words…

    FROM OUT OF THE CAVE
    When you have been
    at war with yourself
    for so many years that
    you have forgotten why,
    when you have been driving
    for hours and only
    gradually begin to realize
    that you have lost the way,
    when you have cut
    hastily into the fabric,
    when you have signed
    papers in distraction,
    when it has been centuries
    since you watched the sun set
    or the rain fall, and the clouds,
    drifting overhead, pass as flat
    as anything on a postcard;
    when, in the midst of these
    everyday nightmares, you
    understand that you could
    wake up,
    you could turn
    and go back
    to the last thing you
    remember doing
    with your whole heart:
    that passionate kiss,
    the brilliant drop of love
    rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
    then you wake,
    you stumble from your cave,
    blinking in the sun,
    naming every shadow
    as it slips.
    ~ JOYCE SUTPHEN in *Straight Out of View* © 1995, Beacon Press

  6. okay, let’s read anne lamott everyday! and remember that we are made in god’s image as creators and when god created he called his artwork “good” which i THINK is the pattern we as artists are spose to emulate? maybe? didn’t god leave us that story for us to notice the principle behind it? maybe? oh what do i know, but my heart wants to encourage your heart and these are the words that are coming.
    love
    suzee B
    p.s. i happen to know 2 people that think your book is way worth the read and it’s only in it’s embryonic stage….just imagine. IMAGINE.

  7. I know this is coming in 2 days after this was posted but I had to share that since Monday afternoon the world has been trying to steal my joy. And today it’s winning the battle. Writing IS therapy and Green’s quote is so timely so dead on right. I will continue to write my fingers off and unleash my emotions onto as many pages as it takes dang it!

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