I was talking with a good friend recently, and the conversation veered into risky territory when he said, “I’m really enjoying writing.” Reasonable people would regard his statement as innocuous, right? Simply one friend sharing with another friend the intoxication of words used well. Now, since I ably masquerade as a ‘reasonable person’ from time to time, I enacted my ‘plays well with others’ routine and even maintained the proper tone in spite of the conversational landmine I’d just walked into. I was warm, affirming, even congratulatory, for cryin’ out loud! Meanwhile, my inside voice – you know, the one nobody should ever hear from? – started in with her distinct brand of caterwauling. Every word dripped green – no, chartreuse – with envy.
The mind, being a ‘terrible thing to waste,’ works wondrously efficiently, doesn’t it? Two voices, the inner and the outer, conducted two tonally diverse conversations on one topic: words and the pleasure derived from writing them down. I have missed that pleasure over the past many months. “Why?” you might ask. My inside voice pointed out the obvious. The cat got out of the bag, friends. The well dried up. If there were a class entitled Word-crafting 101, my grade would be an F. Even the ‘chartreuse with envy’ descriptor – so clever, really – that popped into my head isn’t mine. Someone far wittier originated it. I was simply a hack who borrowed it. And the green-eyed monster (again with the borrowing!) laughed her wicked laugh and threatened to overpower my outside voice.
Man. One minute you’re enjoying a conversation about work and the next thing you know, all your barely-under-wraps insecurities and your petty mean-spiritedness threaten to ruin not just your day, but the friendships that exist for your good!
If only I were exaggerating.
I am glad for my friend who’s writing. I am. Repeat until I believe it.
It’s been a couple of weeks. I think I’ve repeated the ‘glad for my friend’ thing-y enough. But I’ll admit, the prolific words on virtual paper that he’s enjoying and the reminders on social media saying ‘your followers haven’t heard from you in awhile’ (translate “awhile” to one year on April 24) have nudged me into near existential crisis. What am I supposed to be doing with my life?!?! And if writing is what I’ve been claiming I want to do, then why, for the love of all good things, am I not doing it?
Some valid reasons:
- “When words are many, transgression is not lacking,/but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).
- “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;/when he closes his lips he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28).
Kinda reminds you of this one, doesn’t it?
- “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” – attributed to George Elliot, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and even Confucius, though I expect King Solomon gets the wisdom award. (You see what I did there)
- Or the timeless advice from Thumper…
Still. Words matter. You know they do. Forget sticks and stones. Words hurt. And heal. Words lie. They cheat. They steal away trust. Words mend fences, build bridges, and explain mysteries. They tickle our fancies, put a twinkle in our eyes, draw our brows in consternation. We read them and are moved. We hear them and are changed. They stir us to dream, they make us wonder at life’s wonders.
It’s all so clear now, isn’t it? My friend has been experiencing the joys of words, and I’ve been left to cheer from the sideli…er, margins.
Now, I will say, the margins are fantastic places to note insights and make connections. Annotating a text is such satisfying writing. Alas! I haven’t even been doing much of that lately. I’m sure the reading world agonizes over my apparent drop out from the writing arena.
“Fie upon’t! foh! About, my brain!”
(I’m telling you, Hamlet has a line for everything…)
While ol’ Hamlet decided that the “play [was] the thing/to catch the conscience of a king,” (and you know what happened after that), my friend and colleague lived through his own wordless wasteland for a good long while before the words started up again. I can relate. At least, I can relate to the first part. The second part? Well – let’s say I’m still trying to figure out how to, Hamlet-like, get my brain to turn about. Thing is, he had Shakespeare at the helm. I only have, well, me. Egad.
But words press in on me. Novels, poetry, drama, song. Questions and answers. Encouragement and inspiration. Conviction and competition…
Turns out, as I listened to my friend as he read his well-crafted thoughts over the phone line, I recognized a bit of a turning in my head. I heard words, felt the pull of a significant idea. Everything made sense again. Another poet crept in, whispering,
“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
‘Fool,’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’
And so, I did.