As part of my progressive birthday celebration, Emily made sure there was something in my mailbox on the $#*ing day. That's love for you.
She sent me Elizabeth Berg's Escaping into the Open. I joked to friends this week that reading books about writing is what writers do when they're running from their calling. Guilty as charged.
In trying to reach your reader, don't fall prey to what I call "dead dog in the road syndrome." What I mean by that is that anybody is going to feel terrible if you talk about certain things; what you have to try for is a certain emotional authenticity, an earned reader response. Most of all, remember the first rule when trying to convince a reader of anything: If you don't believe it, neither will they.
And then she really testifies by saying, "I'm sure you've heard, countless times, 'Write what you know.' I would change that to, 'Write what you love.'"
Write what you love. And what I love is people (usually women, in my world) finding each other through the fog of life. Admitting their need for one another, making mistakes, following each other through the years like a rope in a blizzard, strung from home to barn. Elizabeth might say that's the positive equivalent of the "dead dog in the road syndrome." Maybe it's the "dewy rose in morning light," but I love it.
It was my 8th year at The Gathering, a group of women ages 35-85 who've been retreating together once a year for 30 years (the older ones, at least). There have been deaths of members, spouses, children. There have been coming-outs of every sort. There have been books published, fortunes made, diseases survived, untold successes and failures of every kind. I don't know how I'd get through life without spaces like this, where everything I am is always okay.
It was a crying year for me. Some years it's about rest, some about casual conversation. This one was about feeling the sadness in the world, crying for the racism that bred the massacre in Charleston, and getting down below all that to cry for myself and all the ways I don't love and honor the person I was born to be. It's not about a low self-esteem (God. I don't have that problem.) but about a loud inner critic that nit-picks and thrives on fear and works its hardest to keep me playing small. Sound familiar? Slowly, slowly, release is coming, and this retreat was part of it.
My dear sister-friend Nalani shared this Wendell Berry poem one night, and I had some company in my tears. It reminds us that "Great work is done while we're asleep." There's a grace afoot in the world that isn't about what we do or don't do (though hard work helps redeem us). It's not about staying busy or being strategic or "finding our passion." (An idea that wearies me.) It's about surrender, diligence, and trusting the Earth to do its work.
Write/do/be/dream/create what you love, friends. Great work is done while we're asleep.
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet, not leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace, that we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
P.S. These hydrangeas are not from my yard. That's all I'll say about that.
P.S.S. I'm dedicating this post to my faithful reader Emily Kelly-Peterson, who said to me at The Gathering, "If I see that zucchini bread post come up one more time when I log in, I'm going to go crazy." Thank you.
P.S.S.S. And to the other Emily in my life, what can I say? You're my rope in the blizzard.