Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This Is Why I Write -- For Now

You might have noticed that I rarely post at this blog. I'm spending all my "spoons" on training Barnum (my service-dog-in-training), studying and practicing nonviolent communication (NVC) -- including staffing and promoting the NVC line, OccupyVoice, and working on Occupy at Home. All of which leaves little left over for blogging, and nothing for any other type of writing. I already have such limited energy, I am struggling to find balance. I long to find time for "creative writing" or paid writing, but it's not happening. For now.

But, oh, how I love to write. I could -- if I had the time and energy -- write a separate essay every day, for months, about each of the reasons I write. Writing is an essential part of who I am. When I write, I feel the most "me," the most connected to myself, the most alive. Writing and editing have been a source of income and of accomplishment. Writing has been my craft, my spiritual practice, my answer to that most dreaded of questions, "What do you do?"

In the last few years, I have very rarely been able to tap into that creative space, yet I have discovered a powerful reason -- a different kind of connection -- still occurs when I do write. Two similar events inspired me to choose the topic, "This Is Why I Write" for the PFAM blog carnival.

One of the forms of professional writing I have managed to squeeze in this past year is the interview. I enjoy interviewing people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a unique way of revealing their story. I enjoy learning about and connecting with my subject, trying to bring out some essential truths in their lives in my questions and in my editing. One of several interviews I did this year for a disability-oriented magazine was about an artist with chronic illness. (We'll call her "Amber.") After the piece was published, I sent Amber a copy of her interview.

This is some of Amber's response to me when she received the profile.
Seeing it there, in print, I can't tell you how much that moved me. It's like it put air back in my lungs. . . . I wasn't expecting it to, but it almost felt like an incredible weight was lifted. Oh, I exist. I am a person. I do things. I am not gone. I haven't been totally eclipsed by this yet. . . . It was this quiet, powerful shift inside of me when I saw it. Like, I remember. I remember now.
I was moved to tears by this. I had no idea it would mean that much to her.

A few weeks later, I found out from blogger, Kathy, The Fibrochondriac, that my blogging had made an impact on her life -- that I'd inspired her to get involved in Occupy (long before I, myself, got involved in it, actually). She sent me an email, excerpted below (which she's given her permission for me to post) that totally blew me away, because I never thought of my blogging as particularly meaning much to anyone else but me.
I am really freaking tired right now but I just want to tell you...it is because of you. You are not afraid of nobody (ignore the grammar please). You are committed to making your life work for you. You are also committed to activism. Reading what you write makes me feel brave, like I can do it too. Although sitting outside all day in the cold wind was probably not in my body's best interest, it was definitely in my heart's. For me Occupy means equality. It means by the people for the people and NOT corporations. It means that we do not sideline and shove people into the slums because they are disabled by whatever...illness, lack of education, whatever. That particular list is long and my brain power is short. I'm just saying, you inspired me to be brave. I could have kept sitting at home and whining about things. But I'm healthy enough (I'll pay for it for the next couple days but whatever) to get out there and start organizing people and making things happen. And I may never get out in front of a group of people again, but I did it today and I think I did it pretty damned good. And it's all your fault :)
I told Kathy I was very moved by what she'd said and asked if I could quote her. These are excerpts from her replies. The first was written while she was riding in a car just about to arrive at a protest!
Sharon, you showed me that even stuck in a bed you can be a warrior. :-) I try really hard to channel you sometimes :-) and the lady from Harry's Law (Kathy Bates) because I can watch her be a badass too! And another sick warrior is Jennifer Jaff with Advocacy for Chronically I'll Patients. So you three are my goal. Gotta run!!
Later, Kathy expanded upon her three role models. Having grown up with no role models, she was surprised to meet John, whom she married. He treated her with "basic innate kindness. I finally met a person worth emulating."
After I got forced out of my job . . . I was so brain-fogged! . . . I tried to get on disability. And got turned down. So I tried to hire a lawyer but nobody understood the federal disability system or fibromyalgia. Then I found Jennifer Jaff. She was sick too, but she turned it into something good...free legal advice and assistance for chronically ill people. She worked out of her home so she could accommodate her Crohn's 
Then you came along :-) and you were far more "stuck" than I was, but that wasn't stopping you! You were training your own dog, you were making your life fit you. And then you'd tell a few stories of your life before and I'd get it. Your willingness just to work with what you have. You'd point out the problems (like stupid office policy of doctor not letting [your service dog] in) but then you'd come up with work arounds. YOU MAKE YOUR LIFE WORK!! That was so utterly profound to me. And then when you started your activism posts, yeah baby. Oh yeah! 
Then Occupy came along and that is helping me rise above the days I spend in bed. But since I first got sick, I've done a lot of good things for my health and I'm actually more mobile than I thought I was capable of. And with your stories of activism behind me, I knew I could do this! 
It may seem weird but you had a very profound effect on me. There are people that are sick, but still keep working. They annoy me because I want to be working too. Then there are people that are sick who do nothing but whine all day and it makes me want to slap tape over their mouths. Or glue their fingers together so they can't type. 
Then there's you. You've had you ass handed to you quite a few times by ticks and your health and loss. But you keep finding ways to make it work and to help other people while you're at it. How could you not inspire me to do the same? I just wanted to tell you all this while I had time to focus on you. 
Because the rest of the day...whew! We're hitting the mall tonight and some of us are doing a flash mob inside the mall. Fun times!! And I have to finish getting the newsletter out. Not easy work for me, but somebody has to do it! I haven't figured out what exactly I'm good at, where my groove is, but when I find it...that's where I will focus my energy. Right now it seems to be in organizing things.
Kathy was right -- it did seem a little weird to me, at first! I was just not expecting this outpouring of gratitude and affection. And I tend to be leery of using other people's reactions to my writing as a reason for writing.

In fact, it is a cherished bit of wisdom among artists (actors, writers, painters, or anyone who is creative for the public) that it is dangerous to believe your reviews. It is wise, and helps a writer's stability, to try only to absorb feedback from a trusted source whose sole goal is to help you hone your craft. "Do not take good reviews to heart," the saying goes, "because if you believe what they say about you when they're raving about how wonderful you are, you're also going to believe them when they're raving about how terrible you are."

External measurements of "success," or "talent," or "gift" are dangerous this way. We can fall in love with our image in the water, smiling back at us, and do nothing but beam at ourselves.

Ultimately, what I'm talking about is balance, and that cuts both ways. For the last several years, I have thought pretty meanly of myself. I suffered a great many losses and traumas, and I came to believe others' bad opinions of me along the way. Shame and humiliation are not character-building; they are destructive.

Now I am rebuilding my "me," one brick at a time. Some dog training here (among trainers who are compassionate to both dogs and people), some blogging there (with a readership that is kind), some NVC there (which has helped me more than anything else has to teach me to be compassionate with myself), and ever-so-occasionally, a little creative writing, just to remind myself that the logophile still resides within, no matter how hard she may be for me to access.

Right now, I'm allowing people like Kathy and Amber to hold this space for me, this space of knowing that my writing matters. There's an essential difference, I've realized, between what Kathy and Amber said and between people who say, "Oh, your writing is so great. Why haven't you written a book?" (I'll rant about that another time.) The people who just say, "Oh, you're such a great writer," are -- from an NVC perspective -- judging me. (Judgement in NVC is not defined solely as negative interpretations of a person, but any interpretation of the value of a person.) The people telling me I "should" write a book are (unintentionally) conveying to me that my worth is based on something I do, which is writing. And then the art and craft of that work gets all tangled up in feelings that I have to write, or I'll be worthless. Therein lies the danger.

Amber and Kathy, on the other hand, experienced my writing as a gift. For Amber, the gift was that I wrote about her, and she got to see herself reflected in my heart and mind. For Kathy, the gift was not how I wrote, but what I wrote about -- my life, my day-to-day thoughts, feelings, and doings. The words were not significant. She just saw something about the way I was living my life that triggered ideas and thoughts already available to her about how she wanted to live her life. I feel pretty certain that if she hadn't gotten the ideas from me, she would have found them elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to be credited with being a catalyst.

For now, this is how I will keep writing, because I cannot live up to my own internal critics' ideas of what I want my writing to be and how I want it to feel. I will keep in mind that just the act of writing might relay some useful tidbit to someone else that they will find helpful, that they can put to use in their life. Thus, we are both creating the story. We are both -- we are all -- the writing.


  1. I love the image you used to describe the process of rebuilding: 'Now I am rebuilding my "me," one brick at a time."' That's how I feel so much of the time. I too miss the creative writing I used to do, the kind that required intense commitments of time and energy—mental and otherwise. Maybe some day I'll have room for it again.

    Thank you for sharing these stories about the impact of your writing. So often gift are described in terms of "having" rather than "giving" or "sharing," though the latter is the powerful aspect of the gift.

  2. Your writing truly is a gift to me. I don't know that I'd be where I'm at I am now without your willingness to share. Truly.

    By the way, Advocacy for Chronically Ill Patients is located here: http://www.advocacyforpatients.org/ and Harry...I have no idea what channel she's on :-) but I like her.

    Thanks Sharon. I'm glad we found each other.

  3. Megan, thank you. And yes, more and more, I learn that giving gives me so very much when it comes to human connection.

    Patti, thank you!

    Kathy, I'm very glad we found each other, too, my friend. I don't usually send virtual hugs, because I find real ones so painful, but I really want to send a virtual hug to you!

  4. Great post!

    It really got me thinking about why I write...