Writing the Unwritten
When I was struggling to find my way through to my dissertation research I went and sat on Zachary's front porch. He allowed me to face the ocean, sitting on my left and despite both the presence of my mentor and my favorite place in the world, I had to close my eyes to see. I explained that I was struggling because as soon as I named something, some angle, and some way to examine it, my interest in said phenomenon began to wane. We talked through my frustrations and he provided gentle pushback in an effort to get me to take a position, but it was hopeless. I had done many of these mental exercises in my head already. Sitting back, I sighed deeply. Exhaling everything I thought I knew about myself and my interests, I stated, "I need a topic that can ebb and flow with my curiosities, I need it to change." "So? design a study that intentionally attends to movement so you can study the woman, the women, the fatness, the blackness, as it comes." He made it sound so simple. For the next year I worked at building a case for my chosen topic, successfully defending my research methodology meant that my professors recognized my exploration as one that would relevant and valid. A year later, at the completion of my study, I would again successfully defend my findings and my committee would endorse my work as a unique contribution to the field. The letters "PhD" behind my name would forever signify that my work and my way were seen, heard, and acknowledged; that I had been brought into existence as an academic.
If only there were such a process for writing outside of the academe. For maybe 10 years now, I have been writing a book. Not just one book, several books. In the documents folder of my computers, there are drafts on drafts of short stories, films, stage plays, songs, poems, novels, and biographies. Some of them good, likely even publishable if I would only put effort into finishing them or organizing them in such a way that they offered depth and breadth on any given topic. However, when I revisit them, it is as if they were grey ash; completely devoid of any spark or kindling. I lecture myself. I tell myself that if I can finish a dissertation, I can finish a book. I spur myself on poking and prodding trying in vain to force myself into being ready for publication. I ask friends to hold me accountable. I announce ideas to the world via social media and I wait for the weight of the shame and guilt to push me towards finishing. Yet still, I remained unpublished.
I listened to Liz Gilbert in Big Magic urge readers to consider your art an offering. It did not have to be perfect, it did not have to be cumulative, it just had to be available. Most times we are creating, it is not intentional and it is not some huge grand gesture, we are simply doing what comes naturally to us. But, because what comes naturally to me, may not come so easy to most, my way of being and way of seeing becomes something special. Perspective was also a lesson I'd gotten from an old colleague. What is second nature to you isn't second nature to everyone, that is your gift. Truthfully, I'd never considered that me simply being who I was meant anything. Yet, it does. Your way, your process, is what really brings the worth to your product. No matter what the product is. As the old saying goes, how you do anything is how you do everything.
A quick scan around my room and I see a half made bed. A chair almost completely devoid of clutter save for a bath towel. Blankets and pillows piled high with no home, and a nightstand that can never seem to stay organized. I laughed at myself. It was just like the documents folder; filled with the unfinished, the errant thought or task, and in general, a mess that if anyone were to visit I would feel the need to apologize for. Recalling the epiphany that brought me to my computer to write, I wonder how to now make sense of things. On one hand, I believed I had finally arrived at a place of ready. Ready to begin writing a book not about what was, but about what is. Not about Jessica the woman who was raised in Atlanta, moved to San Diego, pursued graduate and post-graduate education, has daddy issues, whose heart was broken, whose body was violated and vacated. But about Jessica who was just on the other side of all those things and was ready to embark on a life of being lead by faith and love rather than fear and expectation.
My initial belief that I had gotten off track clues me into a belief that who am I (as) am I was in need of editing. That somehow the woman who has healed has her shit together, always returns her towel to the bathroom, has a cedar chest for her extra linens and never leaves half consumed glasses of water on her nightstand. But if I'm standing in my truth, I know that belief was just residuals from a life I'm shedding. I had to decide to write a book about right now because that is the only place I want to exist, well, ironically it is the only place that I do. I want to write a book and not know what the arch will be, who will be the villain and who will be the heroine--because that's what life is. Life is happening all the time, over and over again and we change with it, whether we realize it or not. Not only that, life is messy and as a result so are we, even despite our best efforts. So, I had to design a work that intentionally attends to movement, again. An open acknowledgement that I was beginning a journey not knowing where I was going, but with the faith that I would know when I had arrived. As such, the process would be the product and it would be edited lightly because I believe that there are lessons and value even in our mistakes; even among our mess. And most of all, none of it needed to be apologized for.
For not having written a word, the freedom in allowing myself the artistic license to create in this way made me less concerned with critical acclaim, publication, sales or even success. Arriving at the place of beginning...beginning to write the unwritten and being at peace? That tells me already that I am the woman of my dreams and she is all I ever wanted to be.