Thursday, July 08, 2010

Writing about writing

A few weeks ago a friend from college commented on a piece I'd written that I had posted on the Web. It was about Pentecost and I had originally posted it on a blog about prayer and spirituality. What they said really threw me. 

They told me that my writing was "thoughtful, researched, and full of message. But the one thing I keep feeling that is missing is your heart. I know that you have a very large, loving, and giving heart. But I don't hear it much, I hear your head." They challenged me, this summer to give your head a vacation. "Move out of your head and move into your heart."

I'm pretty neurotic, so I immediately started obsessing about this. 

My mom told my wife, Bethany recently that she knew I wasn't very empathetic. I suspect she just perceives me that way because it's how I've learned to cope with her volatility and irrationality because of her personality disorder. Beth assures me that I'm very empathetic and compassionate. Still, your challenge, coming on the heels of my mom's characterization of me really made me do some reflecting this week.

Seems like when I've shown my heart, I piss people off and get attacked for it. At least that's what's happened when I write about politics and religion with any heart. When I write from my feelings about work, my principals talk to me about how it's potentially bad PR and ask me to retract it. I tend to avoid writing about family and friends if only to honor their privacy.

I confessed to my friend, a Quaker, that I wasn't entirely sure how to write about my heart for God. I've felt exhilaration and comfort and frustration, the whole gamut. I guess I don't always trust that those are from God and aren't just self-induced. Perhaps this is a result of my K-8 and then collegiate LCMS education. No doubt I fear the admonishment and/or skepticism/ridicule of other Lutherans.

Sometimes I'd like to learn how to write fiction so that I could change the names. But sometimes life is stranger than fiction. If you google my brother in law who committed suicide a year and a half ago you'll find him in the news of the weird as the guy who sued the ethanol plant for firing him because he got drunk off the fuel. You want to laugh but your hear breaks too.

I don't know. I think that I have a recognizable "voice." But I'm still not sure I've found that "heart" that you challenged me to find. Perhaps it's that I know how to provoke, but haven't mastered being able to invoke or evoke.

I'm not trying to meet this challenge to please my friend, but to try to grow. Ideally so that I can help students grow and so that I can be more useful to God. Like St. Francis' "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace."

I told my friend what a tizzy their comment had put me in and begged for explanation. Was I cold, un-empathetic, was I not open enough? Not personal enough? Did my work lack emotion?

My friend explained to me that "I think what I hear is that your head is intellectualizing your emotions. You are using your head to make sense of what you feel."

Isn't that what writing is for? I thought. Shouldn't I work through my feelings with words. Don't we encourage our children to be reflective?

"What I was trying to say, was stay in your heart, with God," they told me, "and let God and your true self inform you what your emotions are about."

They explained that what they meant by "heart," wasn't how most people conventionally used the term. 

"To me," they continued, "my heart is where God resides inside of me. That is where I go to be with God and my true self, the self that God made. The false self resides in my head, this is the self that I created."

I'd like to think I've had some opportunities to do that this summer reading, walking, sitting quietly, driving, praying, and especially taking pictures. But I've got to admit that it's REALLY hard for me to let go and get out of my head. I'm constantly trying to intellectualize my emotions. Maybe I'm scared to lose that control.

It may be a while before more of that heart shows up in my writing. Writing is such an intellectual process for me.

Something else that's scary is the role that caffeine and ginkgo biloba may be playing in this. My mind races sometimes and I don't know that I could slow it down if I wanted to. I'd hate to think that these relatively benign substances could be preventing me from hearing the still small voice of the Divine.

It's difficult to get enough sleep in the summer. Several days last week our children were up till midnight watching fireworks. When I get home from class, the house is a stress-pool of 4-H preparation for fairs and preparations for Vacation Bible School. So if only to make the hour and a half drive to class I guzzle pop and coffee. 

I've toyed with picking up a book on yoga or ti chi, but to be honest, I'm afraid of looking ridiculous.

I'll just keep trying to be open and genuine in my writing, but I'm obviously going to have to seek the Spirits' help on finding the heart where He lives in me.

Learn to be Still, by the Eagles

It’s just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You’d give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still

We are like sheep without a shepherd
We don’t know how to be alone
So we wander ’round this desert
And wind up following the wrong gods home
But the flock cries out for another
And they keep answering that bell
And one more starry-eyed messiah
Meets a violent farewell-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

Now the flowers in your garden
They don’t smell so sweet
Maybe you’ve forgotten
The heaven lying at your feet

There are so many contridictions
In all these messages we send
(we keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in? 
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin’
It’s waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

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