I wish all of this talk was available, but I’m grateful for the brief words James Baldwin speaks to artists.
I’m behind some very personal goals. Since last week I’ve been under the very good weather in our city. It feels like I’ve had too much to do at my church. I’m ending a semester at Garrett-Evangelical. Trying to fight back to my clearest head, I’ve looked at my work in progress and heard it calling for attention.
I’m in front of a few deadlines with work from my secondary lives. So I’m a week or two away from turning myself to the strong but patient voice of my manuscript. I’m looking forward it. I got a nudge last week in the form of feedback, and I’ve been thinking of it since I read the email. I’m turning things over in my mind, changing and cutting and keeping and guessing and imagining.
Tonight, after Bryce was in bed, after throwing a chicken in the oven for Dawn’s post-class snack, I fell into the chair. Energy gone, I looked over facebook, opened my inbox, and started planning details of tomorrow. I wanted to plan to write, but it won’t be there. So instead, I searched through one of my folders, looking for another prompt, something that would remind me of why I write even though I wouldn’t be able to write. I found something better. I found a compliment. A woman had read one of my first novel-length manuscripts, the story that is very much present but now gone. I read her email to me.
Among her first words was this: Your manuscript is a treasure…You must know that!
Years sit between me and the time I first got this message. It was from a published novelist who became a friend for a time. I read it last night to remind me of the treasure at my fingertips. Whether or not that story or the current story gets couched between a publisher’s covers, there are things I must know. Those are the things that will bring me back to the work in progress. I hope you have things worth remembering about your work, be it writing or otherwise.
I was re-reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak for a class with students of theology the other evening. But I thought of writers when I read it. He was discussing how to honor and live one’s nature. Parker had discussed how we damage our own integrity when trying to be generous, even if we have nothing to give, all in the name of love.
When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless–a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me. Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.