Do you know that song that goes “My baby just wrote me a letter”? It popped, uninvited, into my head when I realized I myself had just been written a letter. Sure, this particular epistle went out to the entire Over the Rhine mailing list, but my little heart-of-hearts knows it was directed at yours truly, specifically and especially.
More than a quick bulleted list of upcoming shows, Linford Detweiler’s latest letter to OTR fans is a rambling reflection on his life as of late, living as an artist. When he referenced his writing process, my heart-of-hearts sat up and listened:
“I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds. But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you.
Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)
My sister Grace recently sent me this quote from a slim little volume called Art and Fear: “Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”
A blessing for the writers among us: May all your dead ends be beautiful.”
So true, Linford. So true. One night this week, as I was sitting in my room, the thought came to me: “Do your job. Write.” But I didn’t write. I wasted time on Facebook and God-knows-what-else. I’m pretty sure I ate more “Hint-o-Mint Newman-O’s” than is nutritionally advisable. I probably checked CNN.com once or twice to skim the surface of the world’s latest ills. I watched an episode of The Office. I went to bed late. I didn’t do my job.
I know this is my job – this writing thang. I can’t keep putting it off. Not because by not writing I am somehow depriving the world of profound insight (I am not) but because by not writing I am certainly depriving myself of insight. I need to do the work, and the work needs to do its own work in me.
“Someone in our Santa Fe songwriting workshop once confessed –“I’m good at a lot of things that will kill me.” For those of us who write, there are always so many options that don’t involve the dilemma, the extravagance of the blank page. When we sit down to write, there’s never a guarantee that we’ll have anything to show for it that we can touch with our hands, or see with our own eyes. In fact, life is a lot cleaner and more manageable when I’m not writing.Thanks, Linford. And God? Please help me.
Yes, I’ll just admit it. I’m a writer that all too often is more than happy to run from writing. But sooner or later I realize something is dying inside. And then I try to get back to work…
PS- Please pass this letter around freely to your friends and family. Chop it up and twitter it. Crumple it in your mind, strike an imaginary match and start a fire. Print it out, line the birdcage with it and let the white doves crap all night long. Spread it on the floor and train a puppy to squat and pee. Make a paper airplane out of it and toss it off the Golden Gate Bridge. Slip it between the pages of an old Southern Baptist hymnal, or into the yellow pages of a phone booth phone book if such a thing still exists. Maybe a writer will find it, God help her.”