Beginner's Heart

In honour of the National Day on Writing (October 20th — just  FYI), and w/ respect to my day job for National Writing Project, this column is dedicated to why I write. And what that has to do w/ beginner’s heart, teaching, and the whole 9 yards…

I spent last night with amazing women. Smart, funny, thoughtful, spiritual. Writers. And I would never have met them if I didn’t teach writing. I wouldn’t have heard how they struggle to find time to write, how they have overcome loss, debilities,  grief and anger through putting them each on paper. I wouldn’t have learned even more about writing.

Today I will go to my job, 90 miles northwest of my home, and work with students who are struggling to find their voices, move beyond the 5-paragraph essay, learn to teach. I wouldn’t be of any use to them if I didn’t write.  And what great conversations and learning I would miss! I’ve learned about parenting from them — what to do and what not to do — about spiritual growth, about strength and courage and love. About writing.

I work with teachers from across the country who inspire me daily. Just today one emailed me about a conversation on homophobia in one of her classes, and how she struggles to help her rural Oklahoma students find compassion. Learn acceptance.

Almost every wonderful thing in my life is tied up with writing. And even those that don’t seem to be, are here — in great part — because I write. Because almost every day of my life, from the time I was a busy bee pre-schooler at my grandmother’s, I was trying to write stories. Trying to make sense of the world around me through writing.

I write because it’s the way I’m made, probably. I write to think, to process, to reflect. To vent, to howl at the moon, to somehow channel the waves of grief when my mother died, the tidal surge of anger at corrupt politicians, the moments of lucidity triggered by ephemeral beauty.

I write because I want people to pay attention to what vanishes daily: sunlight igniting the Japanese maple’s seedling leaves. The float of a migrating Monarch butterfly on the autumn light. Time. Life.

Writing will ‘fix’ none of this. It will not stop death in its tracks. But it will, paradoxically, keep my mother alive. And it will not change corrupt politics. But it will shine the light of public attention on hypocrisy and injustice. And while it will not preserve a single moment in its purity, it will hold within each word and line a faint fragrance of beauty, of memory.

Writing has brought me almost everything I value: my friends, my work. And even my family — or at least stronger, deeper, more nuanced ties with each of them. From the lists I made during my pregnancy with younger son — the pram we bought in England, the mobile for his crib — to the haiku I write when a migration of sandhill cranes whirls in the air to the south of me, as I drive over the Keystone Bridge, writing connects me to my history, helps me frame everyday experience, record and reflect on my daily life, and make sense of the interior monologue we each carry on.

If ‘the unexamined life is not worth living,’ writing helps me avoid any such charge. Writing is my life, examined. My life recorded. A shelf of variegated journals w/ spines cracked from ephemera pasted, drawn and stapled next to words. My beginner’s heart, trying to make me pay attention to its rhythms.

Why do I write? Because I can’t imagine my life any other way.


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