Monday, February 18, 2013

What Keeps Me Writing

I recently began teaching a Creative Writing class. The class is an elective and most of the twenty students are Seniors. When the opportunity to teach the class came up, I was ecstatic. I dreamed of students who, done with the core requirements of their majors, were open to the prospect of having a little fun with words. From the beginning I attempted to establish an environment where, at least on the blank page, there were no rules. And I encouraged each of them to throw out the rigid thinking that comes with formal education. I encouraged them to ask themselves the question What If?

Well, other than a few standouts who show up bright-eyed and willing to take a chance on the page, the rest of my students have proven to can I say this kindly...duds. They sit with their backbones pinned to their chairs, legs thrust out, with a thick glaze of boredom pasted to their faces. Part of me wants to scream, "Why the heck did you take this class?" I'm sure some would respond that they needed the credits or the class seemed like an easy A. But I suspect that some of them actually signed up for the class wanting to write. But if the lackluster prose they are turning in is any indication of their level of committment to the craft, I sincerely wonder if they know what they want.

This has me thinking? We all know the people who say they want to write? But what is the difference between the person who says it and the person who does it? Now, I'm not standing here professing myself to be perfect. There are days and sometimes a week or two when I don't actually write anything. Usually though I am reading or journaling or pondering about my character. Yes, it has taken me years to get to this point and so writing has become a habit. A habit that a young person with so many other distractions in their life might not have had the chance to cultivate. But what about those people who have made excuses for ten, twenty or evern thirty years? The ones that continue to profess that writing is their passion, but don't actually do anything about it.

Perhaps, I'm being harsh or cranky. Life happens to people and sometimes it knocks them down like a two ton semi without ever giving them a chance to get out of the way. I can forgive that, but let me ask you something. Can you forgive yourself?

Do you know what keeps me cracking away at this? I wish I could say it's the huge royalty checks that I receive every quarter, but I have more respect for you than to lie so blatantly. No, what keeps me writing is my own mortality. Yes, that's correct. Death keeps me writing. I've hit middle age and well, the end is a lot closer than it used to be. I've had friends who died in their thirties, forties and fifties and so death doesn't feel as remote to me as it did when I was a teenager. So when I think about the end of my life, I think about the feeling I want to hold in my heart about the life I lived. And what I want most is to not be disappointed. With myself. This could be rooted in the guilt that those nuns from St. Anselms fed me all those years ago, but wherever it comes from, the idea that I didn't give my writing life its best shot feels way too overwhelming. So that's why I continue.

If you're reading this and just don't get what I'm trying to say, well all I can say is, lucky you! I actually envy the fact that you don't feel the deep down physical need that I equate with writing. But if writing really does mean something to you, I implore you. Don't kick back. Don't waste the chance. Don't allow your eyes to glaze over. No! Seize the moment. Open your eyes and be mindful and write like you're going to die tomorrow.

And as Cher says in Moonstruck...

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