A True Story
She is a high-minded woman, and hates complaining, so she suffers the demands of her craft with little comment. She bows down to each of writing’s demands, barely stopping to consider the rationality of the requests. She works hard to save thousands, then blows it all on an intimate trip for two: her and her writing. When she wakes every morning, she allows no thought precedence over the ultimate consideration—what shall I write today?
Were it a human romance, her friends would call it abusive. They would arrange interventions and enroll her in self-help programs. But because they, too, are artists, they sigh in recognition of her dilemma. They know the truth of the matter. Without time and money, ideas dance away from an artist’s fingers, refusing to be touched, caressed, held, until financial stresses abate and total silence reigns in the household.
She is a realistic woman. She likes the feel of her warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she toils at tasks destructive to the freshness of her mind. She calculates forms and corrects inconsequential errors while remembering the morning spent wrestling with words, wrenching meaning from images, moving through a million worlds before breakfast. She smiles at her boss, fully aware that each task she completes—each outside mental pursuit she commits to—threatens her fragile relationship with her craft. There is no amount of time that can fulfill writing’s greed. As the writer earns her (their) living, writing sulks and pouts whispering, “If you really loved me, I’d be the only thing occupying your time.”
She finds possessive self absorbed lovers tiresome; abhors jealousy in a mate. Yet she allows her craft to manipulate her into making wild commitments of time, to convince her to spend her energies recklessly, for a few solid hours spent alone in the thrall of words. She tries to reason with writing. When she feels it slipping from her grasp, she promises months of time alone together. She passionately argues the need to secure housing, pay bills, and maintain good credit, but writing disappears anyway. Her beloved writing ensconces itself in the homes other writers, writers who have been gifted advances, grants and stipends from patrons. Still, she saves every extra penny, praying that writing will return to her side. When the bank account is full, she quits. She buys a big lock, installs it on her front door, and waits. Writing returns self-righteously, admonishing her that there would be no more separations between them if she would just commit to the craft. She nods obediently, allowing embarrassment to flood her skin. With a few tentative touches of the keyboard, she begs writing’s absolution. Writing, forever expansive and forgiving, bursts forth with a flood of inspired expressions. The writer sighs in relief. She feels, once again, in love in the arms of her craft.
The Alchemy of Writing
Creating a piece of literature—fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or plays—is an act of true alchemy. The writer sits alone, fiddling with the elements of life that frighten, anger, shame, excite and intrigue. By laying bare the most vulnerable of emotions and the most insightful of ideas, writers create conversations in the world. The moment one writer’s reflections are read, her individual ruminations blossom from the realm of the personal to the wide-reaching expanse of the universal. Even the most private of struggles can become a testimony of the human experience. A writer writes and the world shifts. Controversy and contemplation are birthed from the bursting forth of words.
The alchemical miracle of writing is that literature does not limit itself to the outward flow of ideas. The writer—entrenched in an exploration of ideas, moods, emotions, and experiences—does so much more than send her ideas out like envoys of her life. When laying down thoughts and ideas the thinking writer is forced to contemplate. Faced with gaping holes in logic or flow, writers are forced to leave their private spaces and ask questions of others, read someone else’s experiences, and listen to the push and pull of concepts and reality. In the process of struggling to breathe life into an idea, the writer opens herself to the cyclical process of transformation. By sharing her reflections, the writer delves into her humanity. She emerges a new person, having dived deeply into the mysteries of humanness. Her discoveries validate readers and writers. Each of her ruminations are missives on what it is to be human. Each time she writes and each time someone reads her writing, a human being finds their place in the world, affirms the meaning of their own existence on this earth. Writing weaves both writers and readers into the massive continuum of the human experience.
Writing is a many layered process of creation. A masterful turn of phrase—whether it falls into my ears or surprises me by coming from my pen—causes energy to burst through me, renewing my spirit and reminding me what it is to be alive. Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I feel a deadness inside of me. I have come to the computer to write, yet I sit before the screen empty of ideas. A well of emotions springs up—”this is boring,” “I don’t feel like it,” “I can’t think of anything interesting”—yet faith whispers, “write.”
The incantation that calls up the magic of creation is simple. Here is the ancient formula:
Write. Write anything. Try any combination of words. Keep writing until you are grabbed by the beauty of the thing. When the kernel of your creation reveals itself to you, keep writing. The secrets of the piece will unfold before you—like the petals of a flower, the thighs of a woman, the grasp of a child.
Every writer who has been captured by the piece they are writing, knows God. Spirit lives in the surrender of control. True creation emerges when the writing writes the writer. Those feverish moments when I am reaching for a sensation that is a few words ahead of me, are the moments I write for. I am suddenly aware of the entirety of the universe. My eyelids open wide—the whole of me sits rigid as if shocked by electricity. In the thrall of the creation, all I can do is ride the twists and turns of writing. I am pressed to follow closely the image, tone or thought that has me, until a piece of art lays before me, shimmering and new.
Here I am—a woman, a single human being, with a mountain of experiences inside me. I sit down with “nothing to write” and writing happens anyway. Words meld and emerge. I am led on a miraculous journey outside of the bounds of reason and conscious thought. The infinite capabilities of my mind assert themselves and suddenly a world is born. This magical act of creation does not live exclusively in the “fun” genres of writing. The magic moment of creation exists in term papers, required book reviews, and assigned blurbs. It is happening now as I write this essay. Each piece of writing has its key. There is always a secret button that, when touched, opens the door on the piece’s identity. I write for that moment. I am a writer because that “aha moment” exists. Tucked in every successful piece of writing is the flash of alchemy when the author discovers what it is she is writing about. Instantly, every thing recedes from consciousness. Hunger and thirst are gone. All that matters is the urgent flow of words, spilling from the mysterious voice in the writer’s head to the blank page on the computer screen.
Writing is expansive. It can hold any experience, any reality, any emotion. It is the language of a people, recorded. It is where I bury my anger, my elation, my dark theories, and my optimistic truths. Writing can hold all of me, beyond the bounds of my body, my personality, my experience or my circumstance. It is a balm, a salvation, a sanctuary, an advertisement, a habit, a talent, an effort, a reality, and a dream. My breath, my heart, my vision, my truth. Quite simply, writing is my life.
Be well. Be love(d).
: : : August 2001 – present : : :
I have a rejection and an acceptance this month. The rejection is for a story I wrote before Clarion West. I don’t know how many of you read my Clarion West reports, but in them I talk about discovering that my characters don’t make choices in many of my stories. At Clarion West we had lots of conversations about what a vignette is vs. a short story. My memory is foggy, but I believe a vignette simply presents a situation while a story has actual plot elements. All that to say, I submitted a pre-Clarion West story for publication and it was rejected with a note saying: “Nicely written but it doesn’t really feel like a story to me—more a descriptive vignette.” I smiled when I received that note, thinking immediately of Clarion West.
I had a story “Rosamojo” accepted in an anthology forthcoming from Warner Books called Mojo: Conjure Stories. I plan to read “Rosamojo” and “Ancient, Ancient” at a reading to celebrate African Voices magazine this Sunday, July 7, at the NAACP Headquarters, 270 W. 96th Street, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. So I add an acceptance and a rejection to my acceptance/rejection o’meter.
P.S. You would think after the pummeling I got last week regarding rejections to grants/residencies and workshops, I wouldn’t be applying to any more of them, but there was one that my friends convinced me was too juicy to resist. So I applied. The results will come out in September.