A Writer Writes

Dusk.

Passing cars light their own way now as the sun withdraws the light it has offered since morning. The road in front of my apartment foreshadows the coming night. Gray, gray, it all becomes gray — the roadway, the adjoining sidewalks, the trees across the street. A reflective time of day.

I sit down with a cup of coffee — Sumatran from freshly ground beans — sweetened with sugar and white chocolate mocha creamer. I’ve wondered since I bought the creamer whether “mocha” is used in the title instead of the word coffee, or if it’s used indicate coffee flavoring was used in the creamer. The latter would be redundant in light of the creamer’s purpose, but with manufacturers, logic isn’t always a factor in decision making.

I’m not passing judgment with that remark, just making an observation. I’m in no position to talk about logic and decision making. More often than not what I claim as logic upon closer scrutiny becomes nothing more than carefully crafted rationalizations.

What has presaged this cool observation about myself?

Today I have continued unpacking boxes which have been stacked in my so-called guestroom since I moved into my apartment last May. This has entailed unpacking books, choosing which to keep and which to donate to the local library, and sorting through binders filled with unfinished writing projects. Most of the later were relegated to the black trash bag I will carry out to the dumpster after the overflowing contents — much of it my shredded journals — have been removed.

One of the shelves beside my bed is now filled with tantalizing titles like BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott, POEMCRAZY: FREEING YOUR LIFE WITH WORDS by Susan G. Wooldridge, WRITING FROM THE HEART: TAPPING THE POWER OF YOUR INNER VOICE by Nancy Slonim Aromie, ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: THE ART OF WRITING TRUE by Elizabeth Berg, WITH PEN IN HAND: THE HEALING POWER OF WRITING by Henriette Ann Klauser, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: CRACKING OPEN THE WRITER’S CRAFT by Natalie Goldberg (who also wrote WRITING DOWN THE BONES, my all-time favorite book on writing), and THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL: PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR BEGINNING POETS by Ted Kooser. I am fully aware of the irony.

I read about writing, get inspired, start working on a project and lose my momentum. I always have excellent reasons for ceasing to work on a project. Work is usually a major factor. I have found while working in the word business that crafting language holds little appeal by the end of the day.

And my excuse during the past five months when I’ve had ample time to write? I have several, actually. First, I can’t be creative in chaos, and my home has been in a chaotic state of disarray since I didn’t finish unpacking. Second, my thoughts have been as unsettled as a butterfly in the face of my uncertain future, making it difficult to focus on a project. Third, seeking employment, watching my incredibly precocious granddaughters when I was in California, and spending long hours in prayer have left me little time to even conceive a project.

Even as I make that list, a little voice in the back of my head says, “a writer writes.” I like to silence that voice by pointing out the stack of journals I’ve filled in recent months. One of the books I’ve read on writing compares that kind of activity to making a compost heap and suggests it will create fertile ground for other projects. I hope that is true, because I know this about myself: I cannot not write.

Yes, I used a double negative. I intended to communicate the nearly obsessive nature of my writing practice.

When I was a teenager, I started writing poetry and short stories. While writing short stories lost its allure, I continued to craft poems regularly well into my thirties, adding the practice of keeping a journal in my early twenties. After I started to pursue an art career around the time I turned 35, I wrote very little poetry, but continued to keep a journal. When my art career ended 10 years later, I started to see myself as a writer again.

Unfortunately, apart from working in the newspaper industry, I haven’t done much. A poem here. A chaper or two of a book there. Yes, I have continued to fill journal after journal wiith reflections on my life, my faith, books I’ve read, ideas that have taken root as all of those experiences have tumbled over one another in my mind. But, I have not crafted anything of significance, anything I can present to an agent or publisher or audience.

So, the question I must ask myself as dusk slips into darkness is this: am I writer? And, if so, isn’t it about time I write something?

I give myself permission to finish unpacking and to set up an office area before embarking on another major project, but maybe I can tackle something smaller. Maybe I can work at crafting a poem; I’ve not written a word about my granddaughters though seeing their ultrasound a few weeks before they were born inspired me to write a poem to their mom.

That poem closed: “Hearts, steadily beating hearts; twins/ Entering my life through yours, / Allowed me to see again, / Remember, hear again, / The beat of my heart, my life, / Simple and uncomplicated.”

I need to live what that poem revealed to me: the beat of my own heart, my own life. A writer writes . . . and in doing so, discovers herself. I need to remember this.

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