My dear friend, Sarah, brilliant innovator over at Art Expedition
tagged me to participate in the
Thank you, Sarah, for thinking me worthy of this honor and hoping I have inspiring quotes to share.
At university and afterward at supplemental lectures and classes, and from many writing books, I’ve worked at learning the craft of writing. I’ve participated in writing critique groups, helping other emerging writers as they hone their skills, and heard authors talk about their journeys to getting published. Each has taught me something worth deliberating over and remembering.
I’ve also been fortunate to be a “long distance” student to two women whose books have nurtured me with their passionate writing.
One of these teachers is Natalie Goldberg, who wrote Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft. From this book are these words:
Writing practice taught us how to contact ourselves. Now our job, our responsibility, is to contact what’s in front of us – the photo, the story, the place – and to hand that moment of contact, that merging of two presences, over to the reader.
Like many people, my love of writing showed up young, by my first years of elementary school. But I wasn’t a writer yet. I was a kid who could write a few sentences well, a couple of stories considered beyond my grade level. None of them made me a writer. Paying attention to the metronomic pulse around me, to the tiny movements of other people, and working at writing them in ways that reveal the concentric waves that eventually circle the Earth – that is what I do to become a writer. I practice and revise, like all of you. One day, one day you will be able to read my words in print, because I practiced and I learned.
Natalie Goldberg was one of my teachers.
Is there anyone who has not read the work of Maya Angelou? Is there anyone who has not been transformed? From pain and fear, from violence and ugliness, she found a voice and she gored everyone with her words. She woke us to rage and rocked us to sleep. You cannot do this to me, you cannot hurt me, I am someone who counts, this is my world as well as yours. That’s what I hear when I read her words.
Following is part of her poem A Brave and Startling Truth, written for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations and read by Angelou at the ceremony in 1995. I cannot read this poem without hearing her sonorous and confident voice, she who was as a small child cowed into silence by a horrific act of violence. But now she has a voice:
It is possible and imperative that we discover
A brave and startling truth…
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
In only 46 words she identified the truth we must find. Love is what she means, a love free of hatred, the only thing that can save us from death, the only thing to bring us peace. It is meant for all of us to hear, for all of us to benefit from.
We humans search for love but the object of our desire may be unique to each of us. A career to give us focus, a calling to give us a sense of worth, a lover to give us solace, a child to give our life meaning, a cause to benefit others. It may be our life’s challenge to find such to love or it may be a challenge to recognize it was there all along. Revealing these quests in the stories we write tests our strengths as writers.
Maya Angelou was one of my teachers.
A few times in my life I’ve felt a glimmer of success. The ordinary spotlight moments in school: the lead role in the school play, a relay race in seventh grade, a medal for an art project, a solo in a ballet, an A in math, an honor in English class, an award at a speech competition. Later the glow stemmed from relationships build with friends and colleagues, advances at work, opportunities take a lead position on a project.
Even more, my heart still pounds when thinking about meeting the man I would marry, the birth of my sons, helping them grow up, applauding them for their momentous life achievements, standing by their sides at their weddings and waiting in the wings at the births of their children. And even the failures that still give me nightmares and make me angry: losing a job unfairly, the end of a long friendship because we’d both changed too much, weeping over the deaths of too many people I love, rage over the injustice in the world.
You may wonder what all those events have to do with these two quotes. Everything is the answer. I’ve lived, and I’ve learned to convey those moments in my writing. I’m learning to merge two presences – the experiences I’ve lived and the words I write – into a story that reveals a truth.
From a masterful writing teacher and writer to a master writer and poet, these two quotes are bookends to consummate storytelling. One day, one day you will be able to read my words in print, because I practiced and I learned.
You two women have taught me well. I am learning, thank you, I am learning.
The Young Student, 1894, by Ozias Leduc, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Maya Angelou courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Natalie Goldberg courtesy Creative Commons