Bad Signal

I’m sorry I should’ve told months before,
The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising. Things could not have been more odd and frightening in the Middle Ages. But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion – not to look around and say, “look at yourselves, you idiots!,” but to say, “This is who we are”.
In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, “This is my niche, this is where I live now,this is where I belong.” And the niche maybe small and dark, but at least you will finally know what you are doing. After thirty years or more of floundering around and screwing up, you will finally know, and when you get serious you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along – your wounds. This is very painful. It stops a lot of people early on who didn’t get into this for the pain. They got into it for the money and the fame. So they either quit, or they resort to a type of writing that is sort of like candy making.
Don’t underestimate this gift of finding a place in the writing world: if you really work at describing creatively on paper the truth as you understand it, as you have experienced it, with the people or material who are in you, who are asking that you help them get written, you will come to a secret feeling of honor. Being a writer is part of a noble tradition, as is being a musical- the last egalitarian and open association. No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen.
Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town – still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done. Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won’t be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you’ve written help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate,this will shine on paper like its own lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.
You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.
Sometimes, no matter how screwed up things seem, I feel like we’re all at wedding. But you can’t just come out and say, we’re at a wedding! Have some cake!You need to create a world into which we can enter, a world where we can see this. There was an old desert dog in a comic strip yesterday, sitting with his back against a cactus, writing a letter to his brother that said, “ at night the sun goes down, and the stars come out; and then in the morning the sun comes up again. It’s so exciting to live in the desert.” That’s the wedding, right? To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I willing to be?

Anne Lamott

Bad Signal

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