By: Dr. Jessica Williams
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. In fact, after I won a national poetry award in the 4th grade, I thought that was going to be as good as it got. I grew up loving to read and as an only child, the characters in books were my playmates. I allowed my imagination to soar as I basically went through Hebrew school along with Margaret from “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” pushing ardently on my mom to let me become Jewish. The lines of fantasy and reality were and have always been blurred for me, and I never much saw a reason to change that. I like the way my mind works, that the impossible is only an innovation away… but like I said, I never wanted to be a writer.
When I submitted my 216-page dissertation to my committee, I did so feeling slightly uneasy. Despite all the obvious reasons, I was more upset that words were failing me. I moved back and forth between poetry books, sculptures, paintings, songs, Pantone colors, and I tried my best to put together a presentation that could say all the things my written document couldn’t. It was not for lack of a thorough vocabulary. No, it was because I have always found words to be insufficient as a form of communication.
I have this quote that I wrote and love. It says:
Words, however beautiful, can never wholly describe love, self or God.
But really, words can never fully describe anything. That’s not why we have language though we have words to communicate points of reference in attempts to connect to one another. Through God-given talent, good education and probably lots of absorbed brilliance from my nerdy childhood, I am an excellent writer. Not only that, but I absolutely love to write. I can close my eyes and create poems, and paragraphs about life, love, sex, heartbreak, breakdowns, come ups and stand stills. I love searching my brain, and often the internet, for just the right word to describe a particular emotion, occurence, or person. Writing is the artistic medium of which I hold the most mastery, but I am not a writer.
I am an artist. I have always wanted to be an artist, even when I failed to properly articulate it. I can dance, sing, play multiple instruments, read and write music, speak foreign languages, paint, write, carve, garden, cook, bake, counsel and direct. All art. And perhaps because I am an artist, I see everything as a canvas. A blank word document is no different.
It was important that I understood exactly my relationship to writing in order for us to progress together. It was important that I knew what drew me to words and what intoxicated me about the process of manual pontification. It was the steps:
Step 1. Live. You must live life. My favorite writers have lived fully and intentionally themselves (Liz Gilbert) or in a world of their own making (Lewis Carroll). I, myself, will often say I am a feather in the wind. Being blown and tossed about experiencing things I could have never even imagined. Talking to people and hearing their stories. Meeting with angels and all the hosts of heaven right here on earth, I’ve lived a life of both my own and my own making. If not for living, the words would have no weight. They would float off the pages and fall into the sea never to be heard from again. If not for living, the words would taste like dirt on your tongue, dry and brittle. If not for living, the words would not elicit the fragments of the human experience we continually try to capture in language. Always falling short but never for a lack of trying and never discouraging the next effort. Tomorrow we live and we try again.
Step 2. Read. Fill yourself with the syntax, the metaphors, the alliteration and prose of those writers before you. Swirl Hemingway around in your mouth like aged scotch and swallow him whole feeling the burn all the way down. Breathe in Morrison and her sticky southern summers fragrant as honeysuckle growing near a clay-bottom river. Sit quietly with Dostoyevsky in your own pain entranced by how beautiful it feels to experience such sweet suffering. Contemplate with Gladwell, fly with Rowling, hide under your sheets with King, fight valiantly with Tolkien, just be with them. Allow them into your life and let them change you, mold you, mentor you, show you how to sit and be and leave all at the very same time.
Step 3. Take off your cool. It is making love. It can be done in the cover of night, with layers of dressing and safety precautions. However, the best love makers will tell you it is better nude and raw. With no hang ups. No insecurities. No thoughts of how you look or how you are viewed. No concern with judgment, fear, doubt, or cynicism at least not in the moment. In the moment you are in it. It is the most blissful spiritual energy exchange and you give yourself over to the moment. And yes, the climb is slow and agonizing, the climax is bliss, and the refractory period is torture as we wait to climb again. And we always climb again.
Step 4. Write. Write when you are overjoyed. Write when you are woeful. Write when you feel as though your life is in disarray and you’ve sunken to a place you will never find your way out. Write when you dance on top of clouds, are drunk in love, and filled with purpose. Write in the morning before the sun peaks its head over the eastern sky. Write as the vast dark cradles the moon in its arms singing lullabies with the ocean tides. Write incessantly. Write as if it were your breath. Write as if it were your nourishment. Write for safety. Write to scare yourself. Write even when you don’t know what to write about. Write wordlessly. Write silently. Write every single day even if it’s only your name. Make it say something else. Make it say your story. Write your story in every word. Every day.
Step 5. Leave it. And at the end of the deep hurried breaths of a mind-altering writing session you will feel a calm. It will have taken out of you what it needed and your use at that moment will be done. Walk away. Put a period and sign your name. Let it be the you for right that moment and be okay with the fact that tomorrow you may hate it. I hope you don’t. I hope you understand that everything you write is a piece of you. It is proof that you have lived as you have in those moments. It is your fossil curled in amber protected as only time and space could protect. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be.
Step 6. Repeat.
I grew up wanting to be something wild and free and along the way I became a writer. It is not all of me, but it is a very important part. A part that has given me the kind of freedom and voice that my ancestors prayed for; and Thank God for their prayers. Because of them, the art, my art, has weight, it has light and it has life. The greatest art I could ever produce is my own life and in that, I have become everything I ever wanted.