I have written thousands of words in this basement room. Because we are tucked into the side of a hill, the window looks out over the side yard which slims down to a trail that heads up into the woods. I have spent plenty of time tracing that trail in my mind, stepping over logs, hunching through brambles to escape the terrible blank page and the imagination’s locked door – not to mention the sonic boom of insecurity that arrives with martial regularity. It is often said that it takes a good deal of hubris to write, to make the assumption that your thoughts are worth preserving, sharing, to assume that someone, somewhere wants to take the time to read them. Certainly there is some truth to it, although in a world where photos of our dinners and statements about our current mood are freely shared, the thoughtful crafting of words into story, or poetry, or even conversation, hardly seems pretentious. What is more true, is that writers are compelled to their work as much as anyone with a vocation – mother, priest, doctor, citizen, caretaker – a reality I have wrestled against for a good deal of my adult life. Vocation, I am learning, will not rest itself for long.
I’m in the third decade of my marriage, the fifth of my life. My hands have grown bonier, the skin textured, traced with the small scars of living. My soul, too – marks worn into the skin of it, lessons that have been hard – (and repeatedly) learned. There are fissures, deep scars like ocean canyons where the water waits at the bottom black and cold; other seams where the tissue has healed, though it has come back thick and ridged, sensitive to the touch. I used to believe a kind heart and thoughtful actions would yield an unscathed life, but I was younger then, ignorant, and I didn’t know that complexity and imperfection are what lend us beauty. Think of a stream, or a river, which derives its loveliness from the resistance of rock, from its banks which shift and crumble and rebuild themselves, from its bed which alters its depth.
Still, though, I sometimes envy those whose vocations have called to them in a clear voice, who knew from the beginning what they were called to do and when. I imagine these people like a river after the spring thaw – urgent, full, rushing toward their destination, altering their landscape with the force of their calling. My path to vocation is more like a forest stream – detoured, obstructed, sometimes hidden, often forgotten. Only recently have I had the perspective to see its continuity from above, to recognize the slim trail that threads through the terrain of my life, to understand that its silence at times is not a disappearance, but a diving underground, a way to discover a new path to the surface again. Vocation, I am learning, is as persistent as water, and it always finds a way.
I wrote for many years at another online space, a blog I intended to keep open for good, but I came to realize this year that many things about that other space were constricting me. I felt hemmed in by other people’s expectations of how I would engage with the world, the things I would or wouldn’t say, the beliefs I held or didn’t hold. I felt hemmed in by my own words over the years, things that had seemed right to me at one point in my life but no longer seem right to me now; so I closed it down, deleted some of its contents, archived others. William Stafford says that when we pursue our art (vocation) for itself, we “bring into sustained realization the self most critically [ours], freed from its emergencies and the distortions brought by greed, or fear, or ambition.” That is what I hope to pursue here (and elsewhere), an honest commitment to following the stream wherever it goes, to write without the critic or the chorus in mind, but only the words themselves, wherever they want to take me: over, under or through. If the words find their way to you, if you find them strange, or beautiful, or provocative, or if they bring you a measure of peace and you come back to read more, I am grateful.