Writing as an act of devotion & societal transformation

My husband was home from work for a week this winter and I reserved some of each day to play. Alas this meant that my time was too fragmented to delve into my work of memoir, and since I can’t go a day without writing (like others can’t go a day without caffeine or exercise), I wrote about… us… which is terribly taboo, unless it’s all romance & adventure.

Just after I began blogging, a decade ago, an energetic eighty-year old whispered to me as I led a dancing journey through the chakras:

“I feel like I’m eavesdropping.”

I would hear variations of Ted’s confession over the years, say at lunch with an old friend:

“Sometimes I’m up in the middle of the night reading your parenting blog.”

Or when introduced to someone new:

“Before I moved to Vermont, I read everything you wrote about living here.”

Or among community members or classmates or even friends of my sons:

“I’ve been poking around your writing.”

I’ve never entirely understood the awkwardness people seem to feel, and I guess that’s because writing is neither an act of confession or intimacy for me, but a play of consciousness and generosity.

I wrote privately in a journal for two decades, never calling or knowing myself as “writer,” until my mother’s death in 2000 when my voice was unearthed.

Unable to decide upon a single “niche” (which was the rule for bloggers at the time), I began a new one for each realm I wanted to plumb publically–from spirit to parenting, to marriage, to life in Vermont, to loss and healing, to journeying with chakras, to the path of memoir, to social justice, to the beauty of conversation. (I’ve lost track of how many blogs I’ve begun.)

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who I adored, once put tape across my mouth as we were lining up to go to the library. I have always had a lot to say. I just rarely said it in person once I came of age.

Like many of those labeled “introverts,” I maintain, and always have, a very small circle of intimates and even among them, I hold my emotional landscape close. In fact, in our early decades, my husband would often ask to read my journals so that he could know what was going on inside my head. Now he just pops onto Facebook.

Last weekend while assisting a writing and meditation program at Kripalu Yoga and Health Center, I found myself in a small circle of familiars with whom I was meant to read aloud what I had scribbled in my notebook that morning.

When I hesitated, confiding that I was a very private person, my colleagues laughed.

I don’t know how to explain the dichotomy. Perhaps it’s like a prostitute who offers her body for money but is self-conscious when sharing it in love.

Alas for me, it is writing that I love as an act of consciousness and so far there is little money.

This brings to mind how author Dani Shapiro speaks about intimacy and memoir. Even if what was shared late at night over a glass of wine is much of what I later read in Inheritance, it’s not the same. One is a personal connection, the other is a literary act, though I suspect, one born of generosity and love, just as I suspect that the distinctions intimacy and work fade with age.

In my philosophy of education studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, I remember learning about Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Surprisingly it was the “generativity vs. stagnation” stage which lingered in my memory–the one which occurs in middle adulthood, between the ages of approximately 40 and 65–an unfathomable distance then from 20.

Even so, smack in the middle of “identity vs. confusion,” on my way to “intimacy vs. isolation,” I felt the pull of generativity, as described by Erickson: to contribute to society and do things to benefit future generations.

Which brings me to my point:

So much of our lives, our struggles, our souls remain in the shadows, often secretive and shamed.

It’s not lost on me that women are the ones who primarily tend these private realms in homes and families, communities and workplaces, and I believe that if society is to be reshaped as it must be, we will have to make this vital work transparent and we must insist that we not do it alone.

This is not to say that everyone should write into their lives and post it publically like I so often do. I once had a client ask if she should blog about a private matter because she was feeling isolated. I counseled that unless she was accustomed to such exposure (called to it, devoted to it, surrendered to it), her needs would be better met (and her heart protected) by sitting with a small circle of friends who could bear witness to one and other’s path.

What I mean in laying down my life in words is to offer a ripe center of self-connection for those who choose to read and reflect and respond, and in that, we share an intimacy of sorts, a dance of consciousness and transformation, spinning new worlds.

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