She said, "I'm most happiest being a writer."
Often I find myself envious of Maya and what I believed to be this wide open space she enjoyed in life to be one of the greatest writers in the history of mankind...my very biased opinion of course.
Writing for me often times feels like I'm one of the pieces in the Tetris game...perhaps the three pronged piece, not the bar or the perfect square..they are built simply and conform easily, but rather the I feel like the complicated z piece or that T looking piece that is running out of time and forced with figuring out where I fit in the many worlds of my one world. At the onset of the game, time seems to be on my side...the playing field is manageable and these great ideas promise me they will stack together perfectly into the greatest thing I ever wrote...the greatest story I ever told. I quickly experience writer's anxiety - which for me, is writer's block on Meth or Pcp and whatever else you could stuff down my throat or in my veins to cause me to fear my own shadow. These self-imposed deadlines, goals and merits topple the papers I have to grade, the car I have to get inspected, the relationship I know needs time and nurturing, and the miles that are waiting on me to run.
So why do I do this? Why do I continue to court this talent knowing I am not able to fully commit? Writing wants me to marry her, I think, but I have one foot on the single side of town..the side of town where I break appointments and leave the ideas to feast on the white silence of the loosest leaf sheet of college-ruled paper. The side of town where, sometimes, I whisper promises of settling down with Writing, but she knows I'm full of it, and secretly interested in film-making. She is tired of being stuck somewhere in an email I sent to myself, pushed down under the life insurance policy I have to sign, the email promising how much weight I could lose if I just try this program (as if all the other programs were faulty) or buried under one of the billions of emails from Bath and Body Works.
I found a poem idea that I had emailed myself over two years ago. I thought surely it would be bitter and turn on me today, and fail to produce anything with an sensible end...but, there's something about this whole process that oozes the idea of grace...I wrote from the idea something totally different than the intended sentiment and it came out well...tender, but well, albeit some of the passion had evaporated. But she, the ideas, the words, the experience, the cause...she still loved me, unconditionally and she let me write her.
You have to write now, right now...I always told myself this thinking that if I operated in a space with some pressure, I would produce. The whole 'diamond' concept. I would shift and change and all the things under my purview and care, even my own self perception and self worth as a Creative, would simply fall into place, with a little or a lot of maneuvering. After all, the reward is so freaking rewarding. The fruit of this labor is so satisfying and juicy and self sustaining. So I still maintain the sentiment. Write now, right now dammit. Even if it is garbage in your over-critical, hypersensitive mind, even if all you could give it is five minutes. It doesn't take long to get pregnant but the labor might last for over 20 hours. Your writing experience is bigger than the initial thought, the implantation of the idea. Concerning the birth, some of us (ME, put your hand up Shaunna), opt for the Cesarean experience over the natural push and scream. I will caution you that you may not want that every time. That shit hurts and you cannot control your rate of recovery. Some pieces are ripped out of you because of pressure, time or impatience or divine providence, and these exercises require lots of rest and salve afterwards. Get ready to do the work. Get ready to be written and read yourself as the mirror turns away from your protagonist, to you. The pen will also turn on you...but like scripture, if it is authentic and your truth and divine, it will eventually heal.
I've sat in a dark room and typed a whole bunch of stuff into a piece where, the literary magic and technique wasn't top notch, but I spilled my guts onto the keyboard successfully and me and God had to clean it up. It's a nasty, painful, invasive thing at times...That moment, I'd wished I had a midwife, a literary Doula or writing partner who subs as a clinical therapist, to help me...to help clean the mess in the margins...every writer has a mess in the margins that you don't see.
So when Maya says, "I'm happiest being a writer", I don't know if I can feel her, each time. The pressure to please myself and my reader, to try to monetize this gift, to balance this talent with all the other demands of my life and to try to emerge SANE after I give my all in this erratic courtship...'happy' may not be the word that comes to mind...but 'necessary' is.
I have to write.
What I know now, after having been with 'her' for over a decade now, seriously, whatever seriously means....is that she is always there. She is faithful and when I show up, as committed as I could be, she answers the call.
I need music, salty chips, peanut M&Ms, a host of satisfied bodily functions, a cool room and my printed works around me to show up fully cocked. I need other writers and probing prompts. I need Flying Lotus and Erykah. I need Maya. I need Lonnie Liston Smith and I need compliments for the other stuff I wrote. I needs (with a quintessential Black culture 'added' S, nonplural plural) Moses Sumney and Jacob Collier. These writers are better than me by my scale. I need a goal. I need inspiration and mentors. I need lemon water. I'd like(s) a Stella Artois Hard Cider on occasion. I definitely don't need(s) a world pandemic like Covid-19 but I will take advantage of the space and silence and fresh air being breathed all over the world.
I need to live inside the metaphor brought to me by angels the previous night for the entire day, put that to a soundtrack of some deep and pensive songwriter with dope melodies behind it and walk in that poem for a while, branching off that heaven-sent, almighty metaphor without distractions. I'm a pit bull guarding this process sometimes.
Find your rhythm and your light and your why and guard it. It deserves some level of commitment. It may change weekly, with time; it may change with the project. It may change depending on the season you're in. I'm wondering are other writers using this #stayathome time 'wisely'...but I caution you to consider what 'wisely' means to you. It might be wise for you to rest and reset and set a schedule for writing. It may be wise for you to make a deeper commitment to your gift and use this time to establish rules for this relationship and good, consistent writing habits.
I think before that we consider the weight of the 'deed', it is the 'thought' that must be cultivated and stabilized first - the thought that you are worth the pen, the pain, the pleasure and the process. Turn off the timer, get out of the Tetris world of unspoken, unrealistic expectations and just let this thing flow through you. Be present.
They are just words. You are in control.
I leave you with a question and encourage you to respond here.
Is your voice important to you? How do you allow it to be heard, really?
Check out what Maya said...
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake. Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.
Tell the truth and not the facts.
If you are going to write autobiography, don't expect that it will clear anything up. It makes it more clear to you, but it doesn't alleviate anything. The writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs—ball them together and make them bounce, turn them a certain way and make people get into a romantic mood; and another way, into a bellicose mood. I'm most happy to be a writer. I see a yellow pad, and my knees get weak, and I salivate.
Poetry is the strongest language we have.