Friday, October 29, 2010

Learning to Write

In those days, my life was one big reaction.

Reacting to the alarm clock.

Failing to react to the alarm clock and then reacting to my brother-in-law's car horn screaming profanely at 4:00AM in the parking lot outside our garden apartment.

I reacted to the fumes of the diesel engines warming up in the predawn cold of an Illinois winter, my twenty-two-year-old body feeling aged and incapable of facing another day.

I reacted to the numbness is my fingers, ripping my half frozen, soaked-with-who-knows-what gloves from my hands, leaping from the garbage truck and racing into the 7/11 to get a cup of coffee and some short term replacements.

I reacted to the warmth of the coffee cup stinging my fingers as it defibrillated them back to life.

I reacted to the utility bills and the rent come due, racing to the bank to deposit my paycheck before the ones I'd already sent out cleared.

I reacted to everything everyone told me I "should" be doing and how I "should" be living, wanting to please them, feeling that they were right, hoping against all odds that I could live up to their expectations.

Knowing I couldn't.

I reacted to Rene telling me, "My water broke!", trying desperately to start our ancient car on a frigid December morning and finally needing a jump from the neighbor upstairs.

I reacted to the birth of our first child, Christina Joy, losing track of time and space, momentarily forgetting the job and the bills and the expectations of others, and in utter exhaustion, experiencing an uncanny sense of peace and fulfillment.
Teflon, October 25, 2010

Blissfully Ignorant
I never learned to write, at least not formally or deliberately.

From the time I was five, my mom's love for language and everything proper led her to correct even the slightest gramatical error that passed my lips. My dad, a Finnish-born mathematical Rain Man, overcompensating for not having learned English until he was in college, translated his weekly excursions into new vocabulary into dinner table competitions. I've had lots of exposure to language.

At work, the rule was that you weren't done with a project until you documented it. I've had lots of experience verbalizing complex technical concepts.

Out of necessity, I've written business plans and press releases and marketing materials. However, I never learned how. I've always written out of necessity.

Coming up on two years ago, my little Dutch dynamo decided to establish a blog and she asked if I'd contribute a couple of posts a month. I agreed and started writing, initially because I wanted to support her, and then because I told her I would, and then, slowly, simply because I wanted to: a desire that has grown quietly and steadily, sometimes surprising me like a kid you haven't seen in years leaving you wondering how he got so tall.

Nowadays, I love to write, waking up every morning before daylight, sneaking a peak at the clock to see if it's not too early, and then tip-toeing downstairs to crack open my MacBook.

Still, I never learned how to write. But I am.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Over the past few weeks, I've been blessed to be part of a little writing group that I mentioned last Friday in In the Company of Angels, and I've been learning how to write.

As we gather together on Thursday evenings, I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice being granted access to her inner chambers for instruction and guidance. And the rest of the time? Like the sorcerer's apprentice being left alone in her inner chambers, all those books of spells and implements of magic just lying there, calling me. I'm learning how to write and it feels so good!

When I woke up this morning I noticed something different, a little off, like a mole that leaves you wondering, "Is that new?" or "Does that look a little funny?" or "Maybe I should get that checked?" Somewhere between midnight and 4:30, I'd started thinking about writing well. No that's not it; I'd made writing well important.

It's as though now that I'm learning how write, I'd better start writing really good. (That was for my mom.) No excuses. No place to hide. Better not let people know that you're learning how, lest they change their expectations of you. It came on me like a bit of indigestion after a really great meal, the demons finding a little gap in the blessing, marshaling their forces, ready to break through. (Hows that for mixing metaphor?)

So, I decided to preemptively exorcise them by sharing one of my writing exercises from last week and telling the world, "Hey, I'm learning to write and from really, really good teachers. I've got no excuses. If what you see is crap, I did it!"

Ahhh... I feel better already. Thank you for your assistance. Bet you hadn't anticipated participating an exorcism this morning.

Isn't it funny what happens to us when we start to make something important? When we start to make success matter? When we replace wanting to do well, with being concerned about not doing well? When we replace the challenge and thrill of competition with the need to win? When we transform admiration into jealousy?

Happy Friday!

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