“My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.”
I spoke to soon. As the day has progressed I can see now that I was hearing well, just not what I expected. I need to let things just be and see what becomes of them. Don’t judge so quickly.
“If you’ve worked in good faith for a couple of hours, but cannot hear the story, good job anyway for showing up. Go have some lunch.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird pg. 115
I opened up to my keyboard for another day of writing this morning. I strained my ear, pressed in with my eyes, stayed with it, and stayed with it … and nothing would come. An hour or so in I switched to my sketchbook thinking perhaps moving my pencil around on the page would open some things up. But there was more dryness.
I had prayed for help before I entered in to my work and got to it without a loiter. And I prayed as I went, but still nothing. I asked like I do everyday for a story, a place to enter in, a character (something!!) and still nothing has come but wanderings in faerie. At the end of it I cried like a toddler.
What if nothing ever comes of this? What if I’ve just been brought out here to die?!
Oh, wait. That sounds like Israel in the wilderness. That sounds like unbelief. That’s not good. No, I must keep trusting that God will take care. He may let me get hungry, but I need to behave like a well-weened little girl. He won’t let me starve. He knows how to take care of me.
And so what if nothing ever comes of it? So what if all is dry until the day I die? What if I never tell a story? Was having written a story ever the point? I turned to Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” If I never am given the ability to make squat I will always have the Lord, and that’s all I need really. He makes me glad with His presence.
I can show up. That’s all I can do. That’s the best I can bring–trying to be faithful. Produce belongs to the Lord.
I wiped away the tears on the back of my hand and got up to make some lunch.
There is a gate in town to the right of the Presbyterian Church. Actually, part of it. An archway passes under the bell tower, into an alleyway, and on through to a community parking lot and beyond. For a moment, under the tower, you are held in the shadows of a little hut before reemerging into the day. The Lion’s Gate is in there on your right, always open. The air teems with imagination in that space. Teems.
“… the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” – Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water pg. 140
Today I started at a wall – sandy, rough, and high, with foliage cascading over. I turned to the Lion who has been traveling with me and asked him if this is something we needed to pass through, and if so, I suggested a door (hoping the plan was that we would be welcome guests, not intruders).
“Ask, and it will be given.” Ah, yes, that’s right, He has the power over all these things. I asked the King Lion for the door.
“Seek and you will find.” For a moment there were heavy thoughts about the possible search ahead, up and down this seemingly infinite wall, feeling under vines for an in. Thankfully, I remembered this Lion having referred to Himself as the door. “You are the door.”
He smiles, walks through the wall, and disappears.
He just left me, I can’t follow, and I have no idea where I am! I wanted to cry. But before a tear could fall, out popped His head right in front of me, through the wall. “Knock and the door will be opened,” seemed to say His playful grin.
Here I remembered a dream I had a little while back. I had come to a wall made of water, a man standing on the other side. He reached his hand up toward me, and as I reached to touch his my hand penetrated the water-wall. It felt like putting my hand into a pool of still water. And another sequence to the dream: I had come to a stone wall with a face on it (was it a lion’s face?). As I reached for it, it became alive, like a mask becoming animated.
I reached out and touched the Lion’s nose, and I put my hands in His woolly mane.
Now I remembered that sequence from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe with all those fur coats pressing in all around.
I closed my eyes and moved in closer to the Lion. He seemed to be getting furrier. I was enveloped in warm heavy fur. It felt wonderful; not rough anymore, but soft like mink. And the air was warm and humid like when you breathe under a blanket. But as soon as it came it was gone again, and I felt cool lakeside air on my face.
I opened my eyes and turned around to look behind me. The wall was not there to be seen, but I knew I had just past through.
And then the arresting thought,
We are in a New Country.
“… I never know where the next word is coming from …” – Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being pg. 343
How do I enter in when I don’t know where I am trying to go?
Jump. Just jump and start making some stuff; a pile of material, a bunch of garbage. Later from the heap I can pick out scraps of value and rework them. But first job: make matter. No judgements. No stopping to edit. No looking back. Just keep moving.
My strategy thus far has been to put my hands on the keyboard, close my eyes, and say a bunch of silly nonsense words until images start presenting themselves to me. Then I write in the quickest lamest jot what I am seeing and hearing. For a couple hours I stream it out, kind of like bleeding or vomiting.
This has worked remarkably well. I am not hit with a mass of vision all once, but one image leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, and two thousand words later I find I have actually made some progress my imagination.
Of course, as soon as I sit down to write my mind is accosted with the suffocating knowledge that I am completely incompetent. I don’t have what it takes. I don’t. I don’t! Abort!!Abort!!
And then this fresh air blows in:
I remember I am just a womb, an empty vessel, and that apart from the Lord I can do nothing. No plant ever came from soil without a seed. I don’t have what it takes, alone, but with a seed some pretty beautiful things can happen. And who is my seed? God is the source of anything good I’ve ever done and anything good I’ve ever made. He’s the one with all the ideas. Why do I always forget that? I am a God-dependent creature through and through.
I take a deep breath, let the pressure to be brilliant roll off, and pray, “God, you be the brilliant one. I’ll take notes.” Then I start to work.
“…sit in front of the computer and say, ‘Lord, unless you do it, it won’t get done, so you jolly well better do it.’ …” – Sally Lloyd-Jones
“When I turned 30 I had this epiphany that I was never going to be a writer, no matter how many black turtlenecks I wore, unless I wrote something.” – Kate DiCamillo
I read picture books. I read about picture books. I read about writing. I talk about writing. I have time. I have resources. I have a sense for the art form, some talent. Yet, I never seem to make. I am that obnoxious cloud that looks like rain and brings no rain.
What is the disconnect? I am feeling acutely today that if I am ever going write, now is the time. But, how do I do this?
It occurred to me that the one thing I’ve never tried, ever, is showing up routinely everyday – consistently, habitually, religiously. I’ve never practiced the discipline of sitting down to a dedicated daily block of time, doggedly trying day after day no matter what happens … like all the writers say you need to.
So, what if I did? What would happen?
What if I try and find out?