On Writing: The Inexorable March

"The 'I' that works in the world, thinks about itself, observes it own reactions and talks about itself is not the true 'I' that has been united to God in Christ. It is at best the vesture, the mask, the disguise of that mysterious and unknown 'self' whom most of us never discover until we are dead." ~Thomas Merton

A marvelous Saturday evening begins with an email from a friend quoting Billy Collins' "On Turning Ten."

You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being one and the beautiful complexity introduced by two. But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit. At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

He sent me the Collins' poem not from some sense of mid-twenties nostalgia, but instead, because Collins' words had moved him to contemplate his own childhood, to go back in time. In response, my friend penned his own reflection, a marvelous piece about nine-year old freedoms that involved melted-rubber running shoes stamping across Arkansas asphalt. He stretched into memory and metaphor, asked himself why he used to run until his nine-year-old lungs burned with summer fire. His answer?

"It was to follow the seemingly inexorable march from possibility to practicality."

I responded to him, told him that I loved it, that his writing was good in all the right ways. I asked exactly why he had written the piece, and his response was simple. "It is freeing," he said.

My friend found that sitting in silence and crafting a life-reflection helped him get behind the masks of businessman, church member, and community volunteer. It took him to a place he remembered with great fondness--the time when he was free to be what Merton might call the "I" behind his veneers. It transported him to the days when he remembered his true self. That is why he wrote. That is why, I think, he will continue to write. It is why I write. It is my "inexorable march" from the possibility of contemplation to the practicality of it.

Sure--for the writer, writing can be a mindless (although completely necessary) act of entertainment at times. But whether you pen poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, the creative act itself can allow us to see our nuance, to see the us that stands naked before God. (Of course, any artistic act can also become a kind of veneer in and of itself, too, but that is another topic altogether.) And that, I think, makes it worthwhile.

Tell me... why do you write?

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