Do you ever ask yourself, why do I write? What are my values and how are they connected to the writing I do?
This week I’m at a writing conference in Port Townsend, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. In one workshop we spent time thinking about what landscape(s) we feel most drawn to and how those landscapes were evocative of our personal values. I wrote down two landscapes: the Desert Southwest, where I was born, and the Pacific Northwest, where I have lived all my life. To me, the desert represents eternity in its rocky minimalist landscape, while the northwest represents renewal in its prolific greenness, but both of these landscapes convey a yearning for beauty. We talked about how the things that are important to us keep popping up as themes in our writing and in our art. Thinking about what themes come up in my work, I have to say it’s often about what it means to be human. What makes us act and think and believe a certain way? Can we become better versions of ourselves? – More fair, more generous and kind, more knowledgeable?
I’ve been doing a LOT of journaling in the past few weeks, trying to learn more about my own creativity and about the barriers that keep me back. Sometimes in the past I’m tempted to think of journaling as the “lazy way” to write, because you just have to write down your thoughts and feelings and you don’t have to make up characters, or try to use poetic language. But let’s face it, in journaling we can drill down into our thinking. We can elicit core beliefs. We can put together our approach to life and to our art.
Through journaling and in some of the workshop sessions this week I’m starting to realize more of a vision about my writing. When I get up in the morning here the winter light beams across the water, over the lightened cliffs of Whidbey Island in the distance, and onto the rocky-sandy shore. Clouds mass over the water in whites, browns, and grays. It’s a complicated landscape. Like writing!
Here’s something I’ve been working on recently:
Now that I have your face by heart I look at the way it looks back at me. The eyes, the eyebrows more, the curve of the cheek, the half-smile, these all reflect back the long pearl-chain of women who came before you and I. My mother, my grandmother, her mother, and so on and so on. The female mitochondria that don’t lie. They carry such a burden. My mother’s insouciance, my grandmother’s cratchetiness, a great-grandmother’s long-suffering, another’s dogged perseverance. They all lie together in our shared DNA, that X in my cells that became an X in your cells. Don’t forget you have an X from your father, an X that takes you back through his mother’s line, mothers of mothers of mothers of mothers. We all have the burden of Xing back to the lines out of Africa. There is, somewhere, a DNA-based Eve. Or more than one. Perhaps seven, a lucky number. They who scratched in the dirt for roots, who climbed down from the trees to the savannah, gathering nuts and berries and who dried the meat hunted by men, they who carried babies on their backs and around their chests, they who dried the tears of children who cried, they who cried themselves when they lost their own children to illness, to injury, to stealing raids by attackers.
Now that I have your face by heart I look at the way it looks back at me and I feel the presence of all those lineage ancestors. The hearted burden of inheritance brings danger, brings knowledge, brings love.
Take care and good writing,