Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writer's Block Unblocked

Writing takes exercise, like little childhood legs that appear small and weak, but have great strength beneath the surface, from hours and hours of use.

When I was young I could write for hours on any subject. I was full of wonder about the smallest details of life.

For instance: Hurricane Hugo came through my town back in the 90s. I couldn't have been more than 10. I remember walking through my neighborhood, contemplating the destruction. Tree after mighty tree lay across the road, debris had exploded everywhere. The day before the hurricane, I'd gone to my secret place-my retreat from the world. A church that housed a swing set in the yard. If I sat in one particular swing and looked very closely at the ground, I could see tiny, white wild flowers hiding in the shadows of the grass. I had watched the bees busily working, buzzing from blossom to blossom, and admired their tenacity; after all, a hurricane was coming. I expected those flowers to have been thrashed, just as the trees I'd seen groaning and swaying, then finally giving in to the power of the wind the night before.

I climbed the long hill that led to the church where my favorite swing set sat, my thin yet strong legs accustomed to the steep climb. I began to quicken my stride as I neared the place, hoping there was at least something of those flowers left. One flower I was particularly worried about; a flower that, the day before, had only three petals hanging on by thin strands. I felt protective of my little friend. Who else would appreciate her simple, fragile beauty? I was certain she had been destroyed. I didn’t know why, but I grieved inwardly.

I retreated to my spot at the crest of my thoughtful hill, and marveled at the difference in scenery from the day before. I slumped on my favorite swing, listened to the wail of fire engines, and watched the bruised land with broken limbs and the adults trying to splint them. I took a break from the complicated world of grown-ups, and trained my eyes to look closely at the grass once again. There, in the shadows of rain-bent grass, standing as straight and small as ever, was my weakling little flower. All three petals still hung firmly to their staff. I imagined those ripping, watery winds of the night before, and all the grand structures they’d destroyed. Yet this tiny flower, too small even to be noticed from afar—the smallest of all, bending and whipping through the wind, those little petals deceivingly delicate, proved themselves mightier than the 40-foot oak trees laying on their sides.

A voice spoke to me: "That flower is you. You are small, but your tiny strength will someday shame the grandest trees." A seed was planted. As years went by, I did not seek the approval of the world. I didn’t try to show off and become a great tree because that was not me. Gradually, my spirit would flex and firm, ever so quietly, and no one would see it, perhaps not even me, until a hurricane tested that strength.

I remember this event with clarity because I wrote about it with detail in one of my many childhood journals. Today, I have children and a husband to distract me, and it is easier sometimes, to simply survive, and not write, not marvel, not wonder. I went several years without writing. I looked around at my life recently, and it seemed dull and uninspired. It had begun to lack beauty, and I had begun to dry up, whither, and die inside.

And so I decided I must write, because the richness of my life depends on it. But after sitting in the attic of my mind for so long, the muse was stiff and dusty. All the childish wonder and excitement for the little things seemed to turn to sand in my fist. I looked at my distractions. My crying baby, my complex children, my needy husband; the very people I cared for-were they at fault for this? I looked at the laundry and dishes, the floor that needed mopping, and the rugs that needed vacuuming, and I rebelled in my heart. These were ugly to me. I wanted beauty! I wanted meaning! I wanted innocent wonder! I wanted ... my childhood back?

This last thought nearly made me laugh out loud! I wouldn't go back to my childhood for anything! Along with all that wonder was confusion, fear, inhibitions, and powerless frustration. How much had I learned since then? How much had I grown? My muse may have been dusty from years sitting in the attic, but that attic was busily collecting things just waiting to be cleaned up and polished. I gazed into my innocent children's deep and exploring eyes, and realized that there was poetry looking in as well as looking out. I looked at my husband's beautiful glow as he watched our children, and saw a portrait of true art, living, breathing art, that would someday be forgotten if I didn't record it. Even my home and its laundry and dishes seemed to cry out to me, "Make me beautiful! Make me your canvas! I am the backdrop to your portrait of life!"

Now I write, with my bed stand filled with page upon page, of mostly fluff and nonsense. But every now and then, I find a truth I hadn't before, or discover the ability to step back and wonder when I might have otherwise just trudged on. My English teacher Mrs. Yosafat used to tell me, "A true writer writes, not because he loves to or wants to, but because he has to--for to not write would be to die." I experienced this death. Now, by the grace of God, I carefully tend a freshly tilled garden of talent, full of the chance for rebirth.

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