I just wrote 765 words, and I’m now breathing a sigh of relief. It’s not because I’m 765 words closer to finishing my first novel, it’s because of the release that’s inherent in writing, unleashing the words my muse whispers in my ear while I sleep, or when I’m off doing other things I like to pretend are just as important as obtaining my dream. The truth is nothing is as important to me as writing. So why is it so hard to get done?
Lately I’m beginning to wonder if it has something to do with being a woman. Before you draft a letter of hate mail, let me just say that I have been learning so much about the strength of women as of late. I’ve been working with a woman named Amber Chand, who is nothing short of inspiring. Amber is a refugee from Uganda, a true citizen of the world, and an entrepreneur who is inspired by the strength and resilience of women, and as part of my work with her, I’ve been learning about my own feminine strength.
Women are amazing. Resourceful, determined, practical, and altruistic by nature, we can rely on our feminine wiles to keep us afloat when setbacks threaten to sink us. But If I had to name one major pitfall in being a woman, it would be the hesitance to realize our own dreams. It seems to come easy to women to put others before ourselves, as every mother knows. As a woman, it takes a lot of determination to sit down at my computer every day and write just for myself, inching my way closer to my dream, one word at a time.
If you’re a writer, or have dreams of becoming one, there is absolutely no chance you haven’t heard the mantra, “you HAVE to write EVERYDAY!” Any writer, editor, or other literature aficionado will take every opportunity to beat you over the head with that age-old saying, like a nun with a ruler. But that’s not really the truth. You don’t have to write every day, it’s just easier on you if you do.
Sitting down at my computer to write, for me, is like sitting down and breaking my heart open. All my dreams and every bit of pain I’ve accumulated in my rather short life rushes out of me all at once, through my fingers and onto the keys. Why would I want to do that? It’s much easier to help someone else, to work for someone else, than to sit down, break your heart, and achieve your own dream. Writing is sort of like going to therapy, except that instead of spewing out neuroses and getting an analysis by a seasoned professional, you get to relive all your pain and heartache and joy and make it into something beautiful and horrid, something that you hope someone else will one day read and then sit back in their chair and say, “that’s exactly it. I’ve been there, and I know what she means. She’s captured it just right.” So if you write everyday, you get in the habit of breaking your heart open, and you don’t have to cut through a thick seal of scar tissue to get at the good, juicy stuff.
I had my heart broken recently; not by a man or at my computer, but from attending a marvelous conference in Berkshire County, called “Women Write the World.” The conference was held at Simon’s Rock, and was part of an annual celebration dedicated to International Women’s Month. I have to credit Amber for dragging me out of my pajamas and making me go, but I am so glad she did. I was absolutely floored by the collective voices of women writers who were proving the pen is mightier than the sword by writing about the resilience of women around the world. From a panel of women writing on the resilience of African women, to a journalist who walked out of New York bar in her 20s, flew to Iraq and stayed for two years, there was no way not to be moved by the collective power of women authors. (You can get a more detailed write-up of the event here.
But the one who really blew me away was Sandra Steingraber. Sandra is many things: an ecologist, an environmental advocate, and a poet, but it was her personal take on giving voice to the wounds of the world that really did me in. Tall and rather unassuming, she walked on stage with the air of a learned professor. She started speaking with rather large words about the dangers of climate change and environmental collapse. Just when I started to wonder if I would be able to relate to her cause, she literally broke my heart; blindsiding me by reading a poem she wrote which walked us through the experience of the tasks she had to complete after a loved-one died.
The poem described the experience of reading the obituary she had written for the paper, and being completely surprised to see it there next to a picture she had picked out, even though she was the one to have sent them both in to newspaper. I can’t remember the title or any of the words, I can only remember the feeling as my veneer of strength crumbled around me, right there in the middle of the auditorium. I remembered writing my own father’s obituary as my family searched for the perfect photograph of him, and the regret that comes with having to complete the tasks that remind you that you’re living and someone you love is dead. I bent my head and broke down in a silent sob.
Sandra went on to describe the work she had done to promote environmental activism, and how she tries to use writing to frame the dangers of pollution to an audience of loving parents who only want what’s best for their child. I deeply connected with her love of nature, and realized that my book is an ode to nature and environmental conservationism, and will serve as a cautionary tale of what could happen if we do not take care of our planet for future generations.
After the event ended, I went to the table where she was signing copies of her book. I wanted to say to her, “thank you, thank you so much for breaking my heart. My purpose is clear now. I know I can write my book and unite my desire for a clean and safe world with my love of writing.” But I just mumbled something, too shy to try and bother this magnificent woman with my own humble strivings. Just another example of a woman believing in others more than herself. I hoped, at least, she was grateful I wanted to have her sign a copy of her book. When I got home, I glanced at the inscription, expecting to see only her signature. Instead she wrote:
Never give up!”
She may not have known I was a writer, struggling on whether or not to give up, but regardless, now I know I can’t.