My pen has been quiet recently. Sometimes life catches us by surprise and we sit in stunned silence for a time trying to breathe again. While I’m still trying to catch my breath, my writing hand has started to twitch. The truth is that I love to write. I don’t mean that it’s a hobby or some casual part of my life, I mean that my life does not work unless my pen is moving across the page. When I’m not writing I feel guilty. When I’m not writing I feel jagged, broken, and conflicted. It is the pen (and not the typing) that breaks the dam of my inner river and lets life flow again. It is writing that picks the pieces of my soul up out of the dirt, brushes them off, and tries to put them back together again. Like Humpty Dumpty. Writing is my spiritual practice. I have tried to make meditation, prayer, ritual, yoga, even walking in the woods my spiritual practice and while those are helpful they do not have the staying power of my pen.
I wrote my first poem when I was twelve. I had been telling stories to my cousins before that, but this was an assignment for my sixth grade class. When the day came to turn in our poetic musings, our teacher decided to read the work aloud. He told us that we could remain anonymous or we could tell the class which poem was ours. Kids wrote about summer vacation, bbqs with their families, their favorite cat or dog. Here is what I wrote:
All I know is I went to bed
Full of spirit
Being able to smell the violets
That grew in my garden
Outside my bedroom window.
I could hear the faint whispers of my family
Everyone saying goodnight
And I knew
I would be asleep
For the rest of eternity.
When my poem was read in class, there was a silence at the end instead of the compulsory applause. Twelve-year-old children, my peers of the time, had listened. The pause was thick and hung in the air like the scent of those poetic violets. And that was all I needed to be hooked on the power of words. Clapping ensued and children burst out, “Whose was that? Who wrote that?” And I sat at my desk in the back of the classroom watching quietly. I never admitted to having written that poem, but I was so happy that mine had been different, had stood out, and had expressed my adolescent fear of dying. I was a painfully shy child. I rarely spoke up in class, but writing gave me the opportunity to express my truth and be heard.
The need to expel my soul onto the page has never ceased. Every triumph and tragedy of my life has found its way to a piece of paper. A river of words follows me wherever I go. A trail of language wrapped like ribbon all around me. The bride with her veil.
(Photo by Sean Duggan can be found at http://www.f1point4.com/f1point4/2006/08/index.html).