Tag Archives: gifts

An itch

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“Constantly risking absurdity/ and death/ whenever he performs/ above the heads/ of his audience/ the poet like an acrobat/ climbs on rime/ to a highwire of his own making…” –Lawerence Ferlinghetti

It has been a long time since I wrote here.  I missed holidays, seasons, thoughts and ideas.  I missed the click of keys and the scroll of ideas across the screen.  I missed writing.

I have been working to the point of exhaustion since my last post, both in person and online.  Days spent on my aching feet and nights straining my tired eyes have been so incredibly long.  As I have been working as a TA, grading papers and looking at the process that others go through as they write, I have missed it myself.  I envy them, getting space and time and an audience.  They get to collect and present their ideas.  They get to narrow topics, sift through articles, make arguments and craft titles.

I miss writing.  I decided early on that I would write here regularly as I teach, to keep my own sanity.  That has not happened so far, but I think it needs to.  As I made my way through the text for this course, Ferlinghetti spoke to me.  There is a drive, a frightening dare to create.  Something inside compels a writer to write, something that is greater than the fear of failure.  I miss that push, that scream that demands to be given voice.  It has grumbled and mumbled, but I have not given it a chance to develop because I haven’t made time to set it free.  I need that time.

In one of the texts I’ve used for teaching, the introductory chapter discusses, at length, the fact that no one is born a writer.  Good writers do not exist–they develop.  They practice and learn mechanics and understand how to structure a paper.  Good writers are made.  Which I belive, to an extent.  I spent years learning rules and diagramming sentences, identifying thesis statements and formatting bibliographies.  I learned to write.  I learned to articulate with conviction and support.  Great men and women showed me how to make thoughts bigger than they started, how to give them life and send them into the world.  They taught me to look at the words of others that came before, see what they meant and mean.  I learned to see the bigger picture, the web of people and life and literature that is more intricate and unbreakable than I know.  I learned to read and write, and how to read deeply and write powerfully.  I learned.

But that push inside me recoils, whimpering, “What about me?”  Aren’t writers born to do so?  Doesn’t something in me, unique and determined, make me write?  Isn’t it the same thing that drives painters to smear the canvas and chefs to filet?  Isn’t something inside me special, something that cannot be taught or learned?  Don’t I have something that makes me write, something that sets me apart?  Or is that all wishful thinking?  Is it only true for real writers, those who have something authentic and big to say with words that are not tired?  This idea, though meant to strengthen confidence, shook me.  If I am honest, I like to think that I am a good writer.  I want to be seen as someone who uses words elegantly and effortlessly, who puts words to thoughts that others cannot.  I want and like to think that I have a talent or, perhaps more powerful, a gift.  I want to think that I was made to write, made to express.  Those words, meant to convince everyone that they have the potential and ability to write well, took all of that away from me.  Perhaps that has also led to my lapse in writing–I feel doubtful.

The one thing that I have clung to, the one thing that I think I do well, was snatched from me.  Even knowing that I have worked hard in school, for years, to learn the skills that the text was encouraging students to learn, stings.  Learning to be a good writer is not the same as being one.  I want that gift that I am now unsure exists.  A skill is not as special, as defining, as a gift.

All of this has brought me here, starting yet again, with the intention to continue.  I guess I want to take time for me to continue to work on the skill that I have developed.  What I pray is that I find a tiny place inside where I still feel chosen to be a writer, born with graphite and pronouns coursing through my veins.  I want that joy, the thrill that string words together brings me.  I feel lighter, more agile and powerful, when the ideas are left on paper.  I need to remember this intense affection I feel for letters and spaces, and the world they create.

“If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me/ Threatening the life it belongs to/ And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd/ ‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/ And I know that you’ll use them however you want to…” –Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2am)”

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The Un-celebrated Birthday

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“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents… and only one for birthday presents, you know.” –Lewis Caroll

I have found a perplexing phenomenon among my friends: they do all that they can to avoid celebrating their birthdays.  While we are entering our mid-twenties, which is a bit disheartening, it’s not that we are too old to want to talk about our age.  I miss being in college, wonder what happened to the past three years, but I am not avoiding my age.  I don’t know what it is that causes this problem with birthdays.  For that matter, I don’t even know what the problem is.  It could be the ambivalence we all feel about aging and facing our own mortality.  It could be embarrassment when people throw parties and have waiters sing.  It could be wanting to appear cool because no one else wants a big celebration, so they have to fit in.  I really can’t make sense of it.

I love birthdays!  There are few things more worthy of celebration.  I firmly believe that a birthday can, and should, be stretched for a full two weeks: the week prior to and the week following the actual day are fair to claim.  I had a friend in college who celebrated her birthday month, and I love her for it.  It’s a day that is yours, specifically and intimately.  You entered this world on your birthday.  After months of waiting and preparing, your parents welcomed you, literally labored to meet you.  You share the day with them, but it is yours.  It is a day to recognize what your life has been, what it will and can be.  Perhaps this is the depressing point that causes some to shirk the day, but I think it’s the hopeful, beautiful part.  It’s a time to revel in the love that others feel for you, the beautiful uniqueness that is only you.  Presents are always a plus, and who doesn’t love cake? We live in a world that does all that it can to bring us down, instill fear and blend us into faceless demographics.  We are reminded on a regular basis that, by and large, we are not special.  One day each year, that message is erased.  We are special.  We are something to celebrate, simply for being alive.  The act of living, to being who we are for another year, that is enough to warrant a party!

Today is my uncle’s birthday.  I hesitated for a moment and almost said “was” his birthday.  The reality is, despite the fact that he died, this will always be his day.  He won’t be blowing out candles or opening gifts.  I did not send him a card and my mom will not call him.  All of that is irrelevant.  This is still his day.  We are all still thinking about him, about who he was and the years that he lived.  We are celebrating all that he was, even if it is without him.  Your birthday does not stop being your birthday just because you also had a deathday.  He was born.  He was David, a part of the world, of my family, of me, and that will always be worth celebrating.   

“This is the start/ This is your heart/ This is the day you were born/ This is the sun/ These are your lungs/ This is the day you were born… These are the scars/ Deep in your heart/ This is the place you were born/ And this is the hole/ Where most of your soul/ Comes ripping out from the places you’ve been torn/ And it is always, always, always yours…” –Switchfoot, Always

A Season of Giving

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“Little baby/ I am a poor boy too/ I have no gift to bring/ That’s fit to give the King/ Shall I play for you?…”  –The Little Drummer Boy

 

I have had so much swirling around my mind this Christmas season.  I really wish I had been more disciplined and written more, but so life goes.

Each time I hear the Little Drummer Boy on the radio I am deeply touched by the song.  I know that it can be annoying, with all the “pum-puming,” and is a staple of Christmas pageants, so the song is nothing novel or especially noteworthy.  However, each time I hear it I get chills as the final verse starts.  The image of wanting to honor God, with nothing to give but your talent and passion, is inspiring. 

This year I have worked less and earned less than in years past.  I found as I started my shopping for my family that I couldn’t afford to buy much for them.  I’m not quite so worried about the amount of money that I can spend as I am that I feel limited.  I want to get them more.  I want to give them more.  I see things all around that remind me of them or that they would enjoy and I want to be able to give them.  I know that they are not expecting more or asking for more, but I like giving more.  I like letting them know that they are far away but on my mind.  I know that my words can do that, but presents seem to speak a little louder. 

The image of giving in the song is so powerful.  Honoring Christ is all that matters.  With no wealth to spare, his ability to drum is all the boy can bring to a child much like him.  I was deeply moved the other day and listened to this song.  It was such a humble request: Shall I play for him?  He asked permission to give the baby something.  I know this isn’t a true story, but an image of the scene was so strong in my mind.  New parents, tired and scared and excited and probably overwhelmed, are approached by strangers bearing gifts to their child.  Now, with baby showers, this is so common, but I wonder if it was at that time.  People come to worship your new little baby, including a dirty, poor little boy.  I imagine Mary indulging him, not really wanting the drum played, but letting him do it anyway. 

The emotion of the simple song always strikes me.  The boy plays his “best” for the baby.  It is such a childlike thing to say, so pure and innocent.  I realize that this is all that is asked of us.  We wonder what it is to bring glory to God.  We ask what we can do for others, how we can give and follow Christ.  We can play our drums.  We can take the little things that we have, the gifts we have been given, talents we possess and passions we hold, and give them.  We can give them the best that we can.  We can offer what we have and are now, not what we earn or will be or make happen. 

That’s the essence of Christmas.  God gave Himself.  He gave His love, His grace, His simple presence.  That’s what we celebrate.  It’s so simple.  We complicate the holiday so much, make it so busy and hard.  It’s as simple as asking, “Can I be me for someone?  Can I give what I’ve got here and now?” 

In the end, what the boy brings is enough.  It is powerful and celebratory and glorifies the baby.  God smiles at him.  I can’t imagine what that feeling would be.  God smiles at him for what he has brought, for being himself.  Being himself brings God glory and pleases Him.  Being himself is enough.

“Give what you have to somebody.  It may be better than you think.”  –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow