“…and after all what do I know about (writing) except you’ve got to stick to it with the energy of a benny addict.”
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
Today I went to UC Berkeley with my friend Dave. The first thing we did was visit a bookstore and then another. It should have been fun, but it wasn’t. Instead, I got overwhelmed. What do I look at? What do I read? Comic books? Poetry? History? Philosophy? Literature? Spiritual writing? There was so much. I couldn’t move. I don’t mean literally. I moved. I looked at things. Inside I was paralyzed. I couldn’t make a choice. Nothing said, “Read me! I’m what you need now!” I would pick up one book, put it down, and then pick up another, several times. I bought a couple of books on writing for my oldest daughter, whom I hope will be going to school there, but other than a comic book, nothing shouted out to me or even whispered.
Then we went to another bookstore across the street. It was four floors full of books and my anxiety increased. Suddenly I was asking questions:
· What do I read?
· What do I need?
· Why am I here on this planet?
· What is the answer to all the questions of all the people with all their needs and wants and hopes and fears?
· Who are all these writers and what was their purpose in writing all these books? Did they want money? Fame? Or did they just need to get a message out to the world?
All these questions were coming at me in fewer than three seconds. This is what my mind does. It’s like being mentally mugged. One expects to get mugged in a dark alley, but not in a bookstore. Dave, a true friend and a friend who knows what I need, seeing my distress said, “Do you want to go somewhere and write?”
I declined, but I shouldn’t have. We stayed in the bookstore for a few more minutes. After finding a parking garage so that we didn’t have to worry about feeding a meter, we got lunch. I thought about what had just occurred. Here’s what I surmised:
First, when I have those panic attacks or whatever they are, I can do other things immediately. I can tap or pray or ask for prayer or drink water or breathe or focus on my inner body. I can meditate on something pleasant, like a flower or the beach or that play I was in during the 10th grade. Just because I get to that place of panic doesn’t mean I have to stay there. I can and should move on and move away from it. When I say, “should,” I mean I have an obligation to myself and others to not stay in that place. I don’t need the attention and I don’t need to create more pain for myself or others.
Second, and this is crucial, I need to write…a lot. It keeps me calm. It might stave off these panic attacks or whatever it was I had. Writing keeps my thoughts in order. It settles me down. It helps me breathe. It helps me answer the questions, like the ones I had in the bookstore. It makes me human. Writing isn’t who I am; it’s what I do, but I’m not sure if I do it enough. I need to do it every day, maybe twice a day, maybe more. I look forward to the time when I’m on my house by the beach and I can write for a few hours without interruption. But I can’t use waiting for that time as an excuse to wait. I need to write now. Right now. Write now. Sometimes I think God is testing me and seeing how important this really is to me. Is it so important that I will write even if conditions are less than ideal? Will I write when I’m tired or sick or hungry or stressed or heartbroken? I will and I have. But I need to write more.
There are a lot of things I do. I’m a father. I write resumes. I teach English. I’m a neighbor and a friend and a citizen. What ties them all together for me, what brings me structure is writing. I wonder if my deficits in those areas are connected with my deficits as a writer. If I practiced focusing here more, would I be more focused there also? Does one area affect the others? Yes, they do.
Every day I increasingly see the importance of this. This is what I need to be doing. A friend said this is my salvation because I’m creating with God. That’s strong language. Will writing save me? No. God will save me. But this is where God meets me. This is where He tells me to Get Started and Keep Going…write now.