I didn’t write while I was away last week. I didn’t toy with ideas for stories or essays based on my experience at the children’s home. Strangely, I didn’t journal. I didn’t make lists, jot down reminders to myself, or plan ahead for my return. I worked...and then I slept…and then I worked some more. Still…writing was never far from my mind, and I plunged right back into it with renewed energy when I returned.It seems to me that the desire to help the less fortunate has a lot in with common the desire to write:
--The possibilities are endless.
The world is full of volunteer opportunities, whether in disaster relief, medical relief, teaching, building, or simply lending a hand with the day to day obstacles to survival—providing food, clean water, and shelter for the poor and forsaken.
All you have to do is select a cause that is meaningful to you and get to work. Likewise, the urge to write is tempered only by the limits of one’s creativity and imagination. Pick a genre you like and get started.
--It isn’t meant to be a lark.
The work was hard.
There were days I didn’t think I had it in me to mount a rickety ladder in order to paint an eighteen-foot ceiling, to scrub down reeking lavatories, to tear down and clean out the cockroach infested kitchen. I didn’t think I could stomach the salt-fish, beef kidney, or Spam sandwiches that the children wolfed down with such gusto. Likewise there are days when I hit the wall in my writing…when scenes won’t unfold, characters won’t cooperate, and dialogue doesn’t flow. When I approach the keyboard with dread. With fear of failure. With fear, period. With this in mind, I am happy to proclaim that I survived another trip to Jamaica simply by putting one foot in front of the other…the same way I finished The Bandaged Place--by putting one word after another.
--You sometimes wonder if it’s worth the trouble.
The work we do at the children’s home seems like a drop in a bucket compared to what it takes day after day to feed, clothe, shelter, and nurture the children who live there.
It amounts to a grain of sand in the Sahara compared to the injustice and suffering that people endure around the world. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for us, it wouldn’t get done. The bucket would dry up altogether and the last remaining oasis would disappear. Likewise, unless we commit our words to paper, our brush to canvas, our lyrics to a melody, our steps to music…it will never get done. As difficult as it is to construct a novel, paint a portrait, record an album, or choreograph a dance, unless we try, no one will ever know or enjoy what might have been.
--It’s hard to define success.
The endpoint for humanitarian aid is often survival when our goals are actually higher than that. What we would like to promote is good health, education, adequate nutrition, and safe sanitation. We would like to promote social, religious and political justice. We would love to witness peace and harmony among family members, communities, and nations. We would love to put all the children in the world to bed with full tummies, a bedtime story, and a soft pillow.
These may be impossible goals but they call to us constantly. Likewise, if the goal of your writing is to become published, famous, or wealthy, you may have set unrealistic goals for yourself. Still, if writing constantly calls to you, and if you are willing to share your thoughts, feelings and experience with the rest of us, and if you do the best you can with it…then a measure of success is yours to proclaim.
--No one else understands.
When I return from Jamaica, it never fails. People ask, “Was it fun?” “Did you have a good time?” The answer, of course, depends on your concept of fun.
If you consider physical labor in oppressive heat to be fun, then yes, I had a great time. People have no idea. Likewise, friends are constantly stopping me in the grocery store or on the street to ask, “Is your book out yet?” They, too, have no idea how difficult--bordering on impossible--it is for a wannabe author to get the first book published. No idea.
--It won’t let go.
I have often compared my work at the children’s home with childbirth. When I’m there, going through it, I swear I will never put myself through such misery again! Then, after about a year, something starts to tug at me. I forget the sweat, the aches and pains, the dread, the fear. Instead I long to know how the children are faring, how the staff is holding up, what needs to be done.
Before long, I am booking my flight. Likewise, there are days when I simply want to give up on writing. I get discouraged. I’m convinced it isn’t worth the effort. I need to find something productive to do with my time. I will never publish. But then, when I’m drifting off to sleep, or stuck in traffic, or out walking the dogs…a missing piece of dialogue will come to me. Or a short story will pop into my head. Or I’ll remember an author’s website I intended to visit. And before long, I am irresistibly drawn back into the process, taking flight for who-knows-where in order to write who-knows-what.
--It doesn’t pay very well. ‘Nuff said.
“What you really value is what you miss,
not what you have.”
--Jorge Luis Borge--
*In my next post, I’ll share some of the pros and cons of sharing with a critique group.