In her farewell editorial in the New York Times column Domestic Disturbances, Judith Warner wrote the following:
“’How can I know what I think until I read what I write?” the former Times columnist James Reston — quoted by (Anna) Quindlen in her final “Life in the 30s” column, in December 1988 — once wrote. Often, writing here, I didn’t know fully what I felt — about things going on in my own life — until I read what I’d written. And very often I didn’t understand what I’d written until I heard it coming back at me.
I read this editorial in December and kept it tucked in my mind (actually pasted into a document for a future post.) The reason? I completely understand using what I've written to understand myself. And the comments of others to further discern the meaning. What relief I felt to learn I'm not alone.
On January 12, I wrote Part One of this small series regarding the discovery of my own interest in writing personal essays. Through my efforts as the volunteer neighborhood newsletter editor, I found an escape from the days filled with wiping noses, changing diapers, and endlessly pushing the swing at the park. Not that I didn't enjoy that, but, I needed an outlet just to keep that bit of myself that still clung to the edge and wasn't sucked up into the life of the stay-at-home mom with a husband who worked 12 hours days. Thus arrived the opportunity to spew my life into paragraphs on Page Five -- and I discovered a voice by writing about those noses, diapers, and swings.
But, here was the deal. When I wrote those essays, I didn't know what I was doing. I could write essays on daily life to fill page 5 til the cows came home. I knew what it was like to yearn for solitude, to go to the the bathroom alone, just once. To have a need for something I accomplished to last longer than 24 hours. These things I had no trouble understanding.
But as my children grew, I yearned for more of a challenge. Had sort of a did that/what's next attitude -- beyond what I could easily produce and understand. I wanted to discover a part of me that was buried beneath the needs of everyone else and necessities of every day life. I not only wanted to discover it, I wanted to write about the progress and write it well.
Therefore, I had to figure out where I was going.
This is where I curse myself. Why can't I ever be satisfied? Instead of fulfilling myself with what I know, resting on a familiar ledge, some invisible force always plods me toward a further distance, to an unknown. To a place much more difficult to master. To another edge. Sometimes only a lateral move. Sometimes back down before I get to another rise.
In 1996, I came across Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance, Warner Books, 1995. Following along with her daily messages of utilizing comfort to seek out the self I'd lost in the mire of motherhood, my grasp on the side of that edge became stronger. Even pulled myself up a bit to see a world out there on the horizon. At the end of that year long search in that book, I had before me my first completed journal and a photo journal cataloging images of things I liked - not just a hodge podge of ideas in my head, but a clear vision of my passions, a pattern. Equipped with this knowledge, I set forth, with a sense of organization, onto a new, yet unfamiliar writing path.
Obviously that path also had many uncertain turns and detours. Even huge mountains appeared before me as I took unfamiliar roads -- writing groups, critiques, deeper searches into my soul.
As I took classes and studied not only the essay, but also the craft of writing, my first attempts retreated into the familiar. If not for the prodding of some fine teachers who challenged me to search deeper, to explore where I didn't want to go, did my essays change from the simpler days of yore.
Often I wonder what it is about me that just can't be satisfied. Why I seem to automatically wander in and out of the fog seeking adventures that require more of me. That I truly do love to rock and loll and float, and spend a great deal of time doing that. Given that scenario, it would seem I'd not end up in more challenging places, that I'd seek where I wouldn't struggle like tackling the novel or short stories. A non-fiction proposal. Essays on my place in this world.
Or to discover why it is some of those essays I begin with such ease end up in my incomplete file, sometimes for years, in an effort to focus in on what I've learned. Perhaps I have not mastered the art of deciphering my words. Perhaps a further look is required, like James Reston, Anna Quindlin and Judith Warner. To look further into the words before me on the page. To believe the words have come from me.
To not be afraid to find how far off the original map I've journeyed. To not fear that my organization may be off. That the next map may not be within my grasp.
To be continued...