writing so hard

writing comes easily to me in that i write daily, and have since i learned the alphabet. i don’t really feel things fully, or understand things, until i have written them down.

writing is still the hardest work i do – physically, emotionally, spiritually, politically. figuring out what needs to be written, what needs to be uplifted, how to write it, who to write to, how much i am willing to share and to change…and, always, when to write – it’s hard work.

words are spells and invitations. they all exist, and we rearrange them over and over to say the truth.

the ancestors i love left me a river of words, and i am conscious of being a small stream flowing into it, sometimes guiding others, bringing myself to an ocean.

so. i just wrote for three weeks straight.

on the surface of it, i finished two books.

one nonfiction, on pleasure activism.

one visionary fiction, a novel on grief and transformation in detroit.

just under the surface, i edited an anthology that i’d been gathering for a year, with a lot of original writing on pleasure to weave it together. as i was completing it, i could see all these additional needs, and every day i was reaching out to people who would add the exact note to the chorus that would make it complete. it was exciting work. and i had to ask myself daily: am i being brave enough? am i telling the truth about my pleasures and vision and healing journey? do i need all these words? does it read like a conversation? am i enjoying this?

i turned it in to my publisher a day before it was due. it will come out this fall, it has a cover, it’s real!

and just like with emergent strategy, i wrote a book that i was longing for.

by the end my whole body hurt. there’s no way to write for 12-13 hours a day that doesn’t tax the body. i took baths and swam every day, celebrated each chapter upon completion, went for walks, sought pleasure.

still, it hurt my hands, my neck, my back, my ass.

my goal is to create a life in which i write 4-5 hours a day most days, an amount that doesn’t hurt. writing brings me unparalleled satisfaction. for now these marathons are what i have and i’m grateful.

so then it was time for the novel. the novel has been showing itself to me for five years in short stories, through a nanowrimo, and a month long writing residency january 2017.

it’s an emotional lift. it’s all about grief, so of course it’s full of ghosts, and i have to step into my own grief to write any of it.

for two days of the work i wrote for 17 hours, no breaks, no swim, nothing but the work. and my pulsing sense of scarcity, that i only had six days left. then five. i moved like a dying snail through three small chapters. my eyes were trembling when i laid down to sleep.

then, the third morning, i released my outcome orientation. i accepted that i most likely wouldn’t finish in the time i had. that i may never finish, that i can’t approach this book that way. i scolded myself for being out of alignment with everything i believe in about creating.

i course corrected.

i let myself deepen into the story, lose myself in the content, feel it and weep, take risks. i went swimming daily, took more epsom salt baths and let myself feel as excellent as possible. i connected with others, friends fighting cancer and heartache and nightmares. i watched planet earth ii.

and, to my surprise…i finished something i’m excited to read, to share. i feel satisfied.

and i remembered, then, how i wanted, needed, to finish the novel before i turn 40. i am aware of time passing. i love aging, and i live in a perilous world.

i noticed how people, people who love my writing, don’t quite understand that writing is hard.

i set relatively soft boundaries around the writing – i won’t answer emails, i won’t be on facebook as much, i won’t do other work. just for three weeks. people used the private space of every social media platform i’m on, my text messages, and friends in common, to still send me requests.

“i know you are writing but…”
“i hope your writing retreat is fun, can you just…”
“congratulations on writing, what about…”

i initially resented this. then i realized it’s the ongoing lesson of boundaries. i am responsible for my life. i can’t have slippery boundaries and expect others not to slide into my sacred writing space.

there are so many societal reasons why boundaries are hard for me. for all of us. and for me.

and, every day, i see how the work of creating and holding boundaries allows my life to be lived in a way that satisfies me. not in reaction or resentment, not protecting my projections of other people’s feelings, but in reveling, in the miracle of being a creative, curious person.

i keep telling the truth these days: no. no and here’s why. no, i’m writing a book. no. i’m writing two.

no makes way for yes. and i’m 39, i want all the yes i can get in this life.

time is both nonlinear and magical. AND finite in the sense of a life. actual years. death is always with me. the week i finished the novel was the 50th anniversary of martin luther king’s assassination.

when i turned 39 i felt very aware that it was my mlk year. 33 was when i compared my life to the brief miraculous life of jesus at the age of his assassination. it’s ridiculous to do this. so what.

39 is the year when i am noticing what i have (and mostly haven’t) done in relationship to mlk. (there are other such years, if you’re into such things.)

i have felt a lot of admiration for mlk as i have aged. he was a human, a direct action hero, and a writer. we remember him as an orator, but that’s because the words he wrote to speak were such radical love poetry.

now i am a 39 year old writer deeply disappointed by the nation of my birth, losing faith in the species at a large scale, but gaining faith in the planet, in the intimacy of communities, in what love can do, and…in what i can envision beyond the mountains of struggle and pain before us.

i see free people.

writing in the context of white supremacy and militarized capitalism and patriarchy ranges from annoying to devastating. writing about concepts that were articulated clearly 50 years ago, and thousands of years before that, is humbling.

will the conversation ever change? it’s changing all the time, of course, but will it ever really change?

i think about how hard it was to write the words “i may not get there with you.” to have a wife and children, a flock, a following, security and a god…and to still know no safety. they are true words that shouldn’t be true. this far into the human journey, speaking truth shouldn’t be fatal. but he didn’t stop writing, speaking. mlk was generous.

i get inspired by this when i dabble with hopelessness and rage. i don’t stop writing, even though i rarely claim originality. i am in the chorus i believe in: i sing of justice, i sing of liberation. i write what i need to read, to hear, to say. i feel when it’s true. i celebrate when i feel truth from others – it’s so easy to perform, to promote. but all i want is truth.

junot diaz just wrote something i needed to read, to hear. it’s in the new yorker, and it’s a #metoo story.

i am a survivor of many kinds of sexual harm. among these is harm that came at the hands of a male survivor of rape. i didn’t know that until later, it was all a mystery in the moment. i experienced harm inside of a sort-of-relationship where i believe we truly loved each other as much as we could at the time. we both carried so much unspeakable baggage in the door that we could not see or hear each other. and i experienced the physical harm of his trauma, coming through his body into how he interacted with my body. he didn’t mean to hurt me. he did hurt me. writing about it hurts me.

i could feel in junot’s words a pain that has always been under the surface of his books. the yawning chasm. the unspeakable baggage. the truth. i know it hurt to write this piece. everyone needs to read it.

writing shapes and reshapes the world, even if the words are simply rearranged dreams, visions, confessions, truths. matter doesn’t disappear, it transforms. we are of it, we shape it. writing so hard that the truth comes forth changes the world, and it changes the writer.

in all of this, in small and undeniable ways, i feel different than i did last month. this is internal. i told the truth. i am 39, and i am slowly seeing who i am.

1 Response to “writing so hard”


  1. 1 Jen

    Thank you, thank you.

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