to fill a blank page
position pen ink-end down
move your hand and pray
Most writers want to be published writers. Writing is communication – writers need readers. But few (closer to none) writers start out by writing and publishing a best-selling book that millions read.
It’s better to aim just a little lower and see what it feels like to have anonymous people read what you write. This is different than having your mom or your friend read your writing. Those people like you. They want you to feel good. Anonymous writers don’t care if you feel good or feel lousy, so having your stuff out there for anyone to read is an exercise in courage.
So where are good places to submit your stuff? There are many to be found on the web, and if you are 50 or over, here’s one I found recently: The Elder Storytelling Place weblog. They are eager for your contributions. Check it out: http://www.timegoesby.net/elderstorytelling/
I know you have stories to tell. Everyone does. What you may not realize is that others are eager to hear them – or read them. If you’re moved to share something about your life, or the wisdom you’ve gained, do so. See what it’s like to get “out there.”
Recently I stumbled upon a website titled “Books that Changed History.” (www.historynow.org). I love it when I find others who agree with me, so I was happy to stumble. It is a fact that books have a long and distinguished history of changing the world.
The written word is very powerful. You can affect the lives of dozens, hundred, thousands, perhaps even millions of people, now and in the years to come – just by writing. Even if you reach only one person, that person will reach others. You never know who your book, or your article, or your blog comment, may touch.
Your words may even contribute to the historical record, since if you tell the stories of your life in this time and place, you have just become a primary source. Historians will love you. Genealogists will thank you.
Think about it. If your great-great-great grandfather voted against Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860, or fought in the battle of Gettysburg, or helped runaway slaves escape on the Underground Railway, or shook hands with Jefferson Davis, or worked in the cotton fields of a Deep South plantation – wouldn’t you like to read his own words on the subject? Well, your life too is a part of the historical record. Who might be reading your words in 200 years?
Almost ten years ago, I wrote my first novel, Eating Mythos Soup: poemstories for Laura. In this novel there is a passage that I think contains the real truth about why I do what I do. It is as true today as it was ten years ago. I’ve shared it before, and I’m sharing it again. Here it is:
I write because when I do I am alive. I write because without writing I live in the half-light of a dull November day when everyone else is at a birthday party. I write because then I am at the party too. I play with balloons and wear colored streamers in my hair.
I write because the world smells good and the light is so bright and beauty sits like a beating pulsing bursting heart underneath my skin, and if I don’t put it down on paper I bleed from every pore.
I write because my life is important and I want everyone to know that my life began and ended and in between love flowed through me and my spirit danced with God.
I write because every signpost I come to points me back to the writer’s path, even from the depths of the electronic jungle. I write because when I do I feel the soothing aahh begin in my own throat, and I hear it echoed from the throats of my loved ones as they see me finally coming home.
I write the little stories and the big ones, in the voices of bells and heartbeats. They are mythic journeys and frantic dances, humdrum vacations and gala celebrations. They are slow and dangerous, fast and clumsy, sweet and smooth tasting. They knock you flat when you’re not looking.
I write because if I don’t my life is ashes and lice, and a gluey film of dust lies thick over my skin. I write because it is my protection from the vast and awful fear of nothingness; because it is the narrow plank I have laid across the chasm of the Great Void.
I write because a God lives in my pen and my keyboard and my hands. Over my left shoulder I see the air currents swirling around Her. Her immense presence settles around me like a thick warm quilt,, and we are wrapped together snug on a snowy winter day while we watch my genius burn. I feel the warmth on my back growing yellow, and my skin turning peach-brown with the soft smell of joy.
I write because God says.
Today is my grandmother’s birthday. If she was alive, she would be 105 years old. She was born in Leeds, England, but emigrated to Toronto when she was under a year old. When she was 7, she accompanied her widowed mother to Vancouver BC by train. Her mother had purchased a boarding house in Vancouver, sight unseen.
Near the end of her life, at the age of 99, my grandmother told me about that train trip in 1911. Up to then she had known only city life. “I can close my eyes now,” she said in her quavering old-lady voice, “and see the dawn rise on the Rocky Mountains, as I pressed my nose to the train window. I had never seen a mountain before, and I didn’t know what they were. So I woke my mother, but I was so excited all I could do was point out the window. She wasn’t very happy with me for waking her up, and snapped ‘for goodness sake, it’s just a mountain!’ and went back to sleep.”
“But you know,” she added, “I’ve lived a long time and travelled all over the world, but I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as the dawn coming up on the Rocky Mountains, framed in a train window. When I think of heaven, that’s what I think of.”
And when I think of my grandmother, that’s who I see – an awestruck seven year old gazing at her first sight of a mountain, looking out of an old lady’s eyes.