Why do I write?
Popular wisdom says to “start with the end in mind.” So often, I write without much of an end in mind at all. I start from where I am, the movement of forces inside me, and work out from there. Usually, it begins with a scan of attention across my inner landscape, which includes the mood of the day, the emotional weather, the intellectual teasings that are rising out of the gray fog of sleep and waking. Perhaps thoughts of writing itself come along, or political issues nudge me, fussing at me to get busy. Theological musings, poetic flashes, or theatrical ideas begging to be wrought into plays—all of these, like unruly children starving for affection, grab at me, hassle me as I sit poised to write. It’s a pick and choose sort of affair, the plucking of notions and ideas on which to put my attention at the start of the session.
Attention is a limited good, and the phrase “pay attention” has always meant to me that there is a cost to directing my gaze intentionally toward this or that. Looking in one direction means turning your back on another. This is hard. The inner life and the exterior worlds are spheres of colossal possibility and attraction, and the fact our limits bind us is so frustrating. Nothing new there, of course—you no doubt feel it. It took years, but I think I’ve finally resigned myself to these limitations, convinced that frames are good things. They keep us from flying into nothingness, allowing order to rise in at least one small part of our world.
So I scan my internal horizons and inevitably begin to turn my attention outward, letting the external world invade. In ever-expanding concentric circles, beginning with the closest to my skin, I begin to see my world one sensation at a time, letting my senses receive what they will, as if warming up to the practice of noticing. A bird’s single note call, the steam from the cup at my right hand, the gradients of shadow as they spill across the clutter of my desk, or the thickness of my tongue as it flicks about, trying to catch the last slip of sweetness from my sipping. And then a suggestion comes from one of those images, a felt response of emotional connection, perhaps with memory or hope. As if chancing on a special, rare penny on a neighborhood walk, I pick up the thought and carry it awhile, turning it over and over, and it perhaps leads me to more coin, and the internal walk, so surrounded by the external world, becomes a place wherein I can remember what it means to breathe, and look, and renew.
A note: this “why I write” is not meant to be exhaustive. I have other “whys,” certainly. Sometimes it’s a specific communication, some justice question I’m wrestling with, or a particular person that’s grabbed me by the imaginative throat and said, “Look at me.” And obviously, specific forms like plays and novels don’t yield their results by means of all this moment-to-moment wandering around. How I wish they did. But I will say that what I’m describing here, this “get up and meet the world” first through the warming up of attention and imaginative sensation, is the first move behind almost everything.
One other thing…thankfulness. Somewhere in my daily practice of writing, to which I seem to be applying the metaphor of the neighborhood walk, I usually (though not always) find a moment when I feel the world and my spirit begin to lift, as if light was pouring in after a good spring rain, and I stop the walk, stop the scanning of landscape. Standing still, I close my eyes and bask, grateful for whatever it is I’m standing in, and whoever is here standing with me. For I do sense a Presence, and perhaps it’s just a story I tell myself, the result of enculturation and my need to not be alone, but still…the Presence is there. I generally refer to that Presence as Father (sometimes lately, as Mother, too), and think of him as God, and why such a being would deem a walk with me worth his time, I don’t know. But since I was young, this Presence and I have been on these walks together, and I think, in the end, when all is said and done, this is why I write.
Here, and in all my other creative endeavors, is where I’m most likely to get a glimpse of what my Father is wanting to show me. Teaching me, one day at a time, one word at a time, how to see.
It may not be the best “why I write” out there, but for now, it’s mine…