Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thinking about writing

I had a conversation with a friend last night that was interesting. She asked me about how I use writing to get unstuck or to process things. I've thought about that before, but I'm not sure I've ever described it in the way I did last night. I told her that writing, for me, is a way of paying attention, of noticing as much a given moment holds as I can, and that in seeing, really seeing in that way, I often find what I need.

In the past almost three years since I started blogging, writing has been an essential part of the healing process. Once I started writing about things that mattered to me, I felt the self that I'd let get so numb and hidden slowly return. I began to feel again. I began to have hopes and desires and opinions and perspectives that I was prepared to voice.

What I didn't expect was the powerful way in which writing for an "audience," instead of just in my own private journal, would affect me. For one, it never occurred to me that what I was learning as I reflected and wrote would actually help someone else or hold any meaning at all for another. I credit that miscalculation to the sense of disconnection I felt from the world at that time. In isolation, my experience never seemed much like the grander human experience. Writing helped me connect to a grander narrative, not always one that is already written and accepted, but one discovered in the process of writing and listening to how others responded, a co-created grander narrative, I think. As I shared what I was learning, others would share how it resonated with them and new meaning would emerge. It's a process that I've come to love.

For another thing, I never expected anyone to think I wrote well. Self-expression was frowned upon in my family. Utilitarianism was the order of the day in exploring vocation in my house. What was valued was skill or talent that would lead to a good-paying career. My parents' sacrificed so much to offer us kids a chance to be educated for that very purpose. My sense of commitment to them and the heavy sense of responsibility I felt to fulfill their dream left me closed off to careers or educational opportunities that were largely focused on self-expression. So, I spent hours in a chemistry lab, analyzing experiments to find solutions to benefit the greater good of humankind, like finding a cure for cancer or some noble task like that, while my friends were reading Shakespeare and talking about Foucault and writing stories and poems for the school's annual student publication. I envied them, but not enough to "waste" my time on such pursuits. And I ignored my own dreams expressed to my therapist (and her strong encouragement) and pursued a PhD in pastoral theology and counseling rather than a PhD in homiletics. Educational choices have always been made out of a greater sense of usefulness than out of any sense of passion.

Well, that sounds much worse than it all was for me. I was fascinated by science and I love the discipline of bringing theology into conversation with cognate disciplines, but what has become more apparent to me in the past year is how much I've deprived myself in an effort to focus on the higher value of usefulness. I don't want to do that anymore. I think that's why I write. It's the way in which I'm most comfortable expressing myself. Many other ways tap too much into an unshakable self-consciousness. And, I just love putting words together to describe things, to find meaning in things.

I've been thinking more lately about how I want to give writing a more prominent place in my life. I don't have any answers for that yet, but it's something I'm seriously considering. And I'm putting my thoughts here to create some sense of accountability for them, to keep in front of me the importance of not slipping into that place where usefulness is valued in such a way that self-expression is sacrificed.


Songbird said...

Thanks for sharing your process. I'm fascinated that you considered a PhD in homiletics and sorry you didn't pursue it. I would love to hear you speak your words someday.

Duane said...

Self-expression or self-creation? ;)

How's social class--the stories your folks believed about what it meant to be a success--figure into the privileging of pragmatism?

concretegodmother said...

You? Writing? Hell, YES! You do some really beautiful, powerful things on this blog. I am glad to read this post.

P.S. My word verification for this comment was "fjfshiz," which being interpreted means "fo' shizz!" A certain sign that Blogger agrees with me. :-D

Katherine E. said...

Oh, I agree. Writing online like this does connect us. It's wonderful, and you and your writing inspire us, Linda!

(Oh, and tell Duane, it's BOTH. And tell him I'm disappointed that still, after all these years, he remains stuck in that old-fashioned refuse from patriarchy: binary thinking!) ;)

Linda said...

Songbird- When I was a pastor in SF, I loved preaching. My pastoral counselor/mentor suggested when I started thinking of PhD work that I look into homiletics programs. It is what I wanted, but it seemed highly unlikely to me, an employee of a Southern Baptist seminary who was deeply embroiled in a mess over the fact that I was preaching regularly, that I would ever get a job or be able to do anything with that degree. Of course, my perspective now is quite different, but in those days, pastoral theology/pastoral counseling seemed a safer choice for employment.

Duane- It's both, the harder part for me being self-expression. And there's no question social class is a major factor figuring into that sort of privileging. Perhaps I'll write about that sometime.

CGM- Thanks!

Katherine- Thanks! I know, I know. That binary thinking is a bear to get over, but you have to give the guy credit. He DID pick up on the social class issue. :)

Yankee T said...

I love the way you write. Always have.

Jan said...

Linda, you expressed yourself so well. In fact, you described something I have realized in my short "career" of blogging--that it is much more satisfying than journaling, and it's a practice I am more consistent with than I ever have been with journaling. Sometimes though I don't seem to have enough words.

SassyFemme said...

I'm in awe of your writing abilities. I rarely comment anymore because what I have to say seems so shallow in relation to what you write. Always reading, always appreciating.

Terminal Degree said...

Your writing is wonderful.