“We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Pogo, Walt Kelly
Reading through my journal I see that back on December 4, I wrote about my process of writing my first new chapter since before I went freelance, over 4 years previous.
I wrote it from pieces that started with the basic action and locations, then researched the locations and built the needed discussion based on where they were in the story and what I knew needed to happen. It took a lot to pull myself away from the myriad other things and books I’ve got to work on, but it was worth it. And it felt good.
I initially thought it wasn’t a big deal or somehow cheating since it was built on something existing. I often feel like that, like somehow using something that’s already there is not as valid, not original. But even brand-new rough drafts are built on preexisting thoughts. We all write to get free of something. But nothing we write is truly new; there’s only one ex nihilo creator.
It felt good. Even fiction is a great way to unload my baggage. When I’m willing. My best stuff is where I face the truth and get real, feel what’s buried under so much noise and busy, mind-numbing daily dross. And what’s there? Shame, fear, anger, resentment. The work of writing brings knowledge we’d never realize otherwise—thus reminding us of our undeniable imperfection. And suddenly, magically on the page, what was so easily dismissed everywhere else in our hurry-up world is laid bare, exposed and unmistakable. We are glorious messes and in dire need of a little more honesty and affection.
So often we want somebody to love us but we never stop and love ourselves—just as we are. Who has time?
Last week I wrote about attention as a limited resource. And just today in the New York Times, an article on “The Cost of Paying Attention.”
“Attention is a resource; a person only has so much of it. And yet we’re auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging… In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence—the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”
Just before I read this, on my Facebook feed, some Christian speaker I’ve never heard of, writes: “When I feel alone, what helps is _____.” I imagine writing something snarky but I resist and unfollow and continue to scroll. Fortuitously, Susan Cain, author of Quiet posted this article just below it. What are the chances?
I’d call it the zeitgeist but it’s probably just this ubiquitous overwhelming feeling these days. Simple flowers are starting to take on much more importance.
Andy Crouch’s cover story for Christianity Today this month says, “Social media is leaving us more ashamed than ever.” The point is well taken but the writer looking for an excuse to procrastinate could hardly ask for a more diverting solution than the technology-addicted Internet world we currently live in.
Side note: Early reports that an “iWatch” from Apple will aim to give back some of our time currently being sacrificed to our smartphone’s incessant interruptions and notifications seem a hopeful step toward ending the tyranny of the urgent. But can it also sort the endless feeds and apps and platforms and devices from continuing to proliferate? Can it convince us our attention is becoming more valuable by the day? You might recall smartphones were supposed to make life more manageable and efficient and all of this stuff too. But maybe this time it’s different. (Wendell Berry’s moratorium on technology for humanity’s renewal seems more prescient than ever.)
We need silence and space alone to work out preexistent ideas, emotions and mental states our attention is being continually pulled from. We need our time back to fully love ourselves and our lives, to feel, deal, heal and become real. And then maybe we’ll find ourselves able to love not only ourselves anew, but others, and God as well.
We need to fight for silence.
Without this novel I’m writing, I’m not sure I’d have gotten free of the resentment I felt for the church and Christianity all my young adult life. And had I been trying to write the original chapters while managing a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and whatever else I’m supposed to add to maintaining my website, I doubt it would have ever happened.
“We are compelled by forces that, like the ocean current, are so subtle and pervasive we take them utterly for granted.” – Art and Fear, 116
And without the practice of writing, I’m fairly certain I’d never take the time to remember my life and that books reconnect me to myself and expand me rather than disconnect me from myself and diminish me. Reading because I want to write has made me read attentively when the whole world has seemed to pay its attention to the Internet. It will end up being the most costly mistake many will ever make.
Yet, maybe once it’s clear how precious our lives truly are, we’ll realize our Faustian bargain with being “virtually connected” and the time we’re losing in the process.
Several would-have-been writers may discover something worth writing for in the effort to get clean and clear of our modern enslavement. After all, the worse off we are, the better the story. And in place of the great wars earlier technologies required—from guns to canons to machine guns, tanks and planes and nuclear bombs—the common man’s new objects of liberation and destruction have gone truly viral.
Maybe like me, you’ve doubted you lived something bad enough to warrant your full commitment to this. But maybe you’re living your great fight right now. Believe it: in the days to come, the ability to retain your awareness of what was preexistent will be of great value.
We all write to get free of something. And though nothing we write is truly new, this may be the new battlefield where your true heroism will be forged.
If you’re called, write to connect and to share and to help. We’ll need wounded healers to help the generations to come.