I’ll admit it: one reason I drag myself to yoga is to hear the teacher say things like, “You are here now—forget the striving.”
Imagining a "writer" at work often invites us to conjure up Hollywood-inspired caricatures: someone who’s actually on vacation from the stressful real world; someone leaning back in a comfy chair with a tiny pink umbrella hovering in a drink; someone able to turn on the muses with a flick of the mental switch in order to wear all the hats in her or his life.
I’m starting to know many folks who consider writing to be their main "calling," and even the most successful have day jobs…and usually partners… and families… and in-laws and yards and houses and…well, you catch my drift. It’s a miracle we have people writing and publishing at all!
Ironically, since I started an intensive MFA in writing, the same message I long to hear from my yoga instructor has repeatedly surfaced from teachers. It’s that old nod to the truth that writing needs something more than a degree in order to keep it breathing.
The MFA might teach us to shape and digest language at an Olympic rate, but if we’re pursuing it just to feel like a writer, we’re probably in the wrong spot with the wrong binoculars. And, as so many famous writers (so very ironically) remind us in their memoirs or interviews: if you’re writing toward the goal-light of publication or making a living writing, you might as well take up a different hobby.
Doing and giving are ingrained in my Mennonite self/gender. Making everything better comes in at a close third. Of course, you don’t have to be Mennonite to realize these generational or cultural patterns…As a writer, it’s pretty hilarious to watch my mind zigzag between wanting to be a good person vs. be true to my writing life. I’m not convinced you can’t be both/have both, but man, does it take discipline and self-forgiveness, playfulness and practice with a capital “P.”
Luckily, life has a way of handing us reminders, interventions, and even miraculous traffic lights when it comes to our lit passions:
From a latest MFA evaluation letter:
“Maybe the most important thing for Becca's art in the near future will be to set more limits on the demands that her life invites her to make—teaching assignments, community service—values that are deeply ingrained in her yet often at odds with more selfish indulgences that are the mainstay of every poet’s diet.”
Gift from an elder:
A copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s YOU ARE HERE, with “Now you are here. Off you go to now” handwritten inside its cover.
May you open a book and find this same permission. May you open your life and find you are already what and who you want to be. And with each day, may you get to be this person a little more.
(photo: Athens graffiti, B. Lachman)