Sometimes, when the writing is precarious, I feel like Maria Spelterini, the only woman to traverse Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Even though I sit in at my pine desk in a black pleather chair from Staples, I may as well be alone on a high wire, miles above the earth, walking a strand thin as gossamer strung between invisible moons. From this dizzying height, the din dims. Wind whistles through silver hoops at my ears.
I. Am. Trying. So. Hard. To. Put. Into. Words. This. Thing. This. Thing!
For far too many months I’ve been polishing a poetry manuscript. It’s good – the process and the work. But from the great height in the clouds it’s easy to feel lost.
This week I stood firmly on solid ground in front of four university classes filled with new students, faces all turned expectantly toward me. Some even had pens poised above empty notebooks ready to capture writing secrets.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
I want to be a good writer.
I want to be a better writer.
I’m a terrible writer; I think there’s no hope for me.
I tell them there’s no such thing as a good writer, a better writer, a bad or even a worst writer. Rather there are people who effectively transmit their ideas and dreams and made-up universes, or even their all-too-real stories, with the kind of language that stops others long enough to read what they have to say. Some are more effective at this language game than others and no matter the style or voice, writers who ultimately stand apart are the ones who find the truth and write it pure, pure enough that a reader discovers a breath more about this thing called humanity.
As Dinty Moore notes in his new little gem, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life:
What we have is ourselves, and that is all we can really write about.”
Moore’s book is fill with all kinds of sage wisdom, dished out thoughtfully in 1-2 page bit, organized around a writer’s quote. The segment about being ourselves is under a quote by Barbara Kingsolver:
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
After Maria Spelterini completed her first crossing in July, 1876, within a matter of weeks she repeated the feat with peach baskets strapped to her feet, then once again blindfolded, and yet again with her hands and feet bound in iron cuffs.
Sometimes I think I make the writing process more difficult than it needs to be, especially when I begin to circle too closely toward self-doubt, or some other truth I’d rather ignore. I’m tempted to throw up peach baskets, a blindfold, shackles, or in the case of my poetry book, obscure references to ancient Greek myths and long forgotten gods.
It isn’t just writers who do this. We all at some time face a startling self-discovery with distractions. We try to affirm that we’re still good enough, daring enough, special enough. I suppose it’s easy to receive acclaim if you’ve got a high wire and an audience. There’s far less fanfare for walking the wire of one true self.
One night, I dream I’m Maria Spelterini. I pause midway in my crossing, the thunder of Niagara Falls all around. I leap, a scissor kick. For one brief second I hang in flight.
Oh— the view!
With balance and daring,
p.s. Dinty Moore will be a presenter at League of Utah Writers Roundup, September 14-15, 2012. Click here for more information.