What Transforms Us

Quill and ScrollI have a germ of an idea snaking through my consciousness; about writing, about transformation. Yet I cannot articulate it well unless I begin the process and tease out this idea which has come into being.

The process of writing is rarely talked about outside of academic classrooms or MFA programs. In college, I did not take the Creative Writing courses that many of my fellow students did because I tend to think of Creative Writing as narrowly encompassing poetry, fiction, and even some imaginative biography. Instead I chose to concentrate on Literature because we did no less the amount of writing that the Creative Writing student did, perhaps we did even more. I wrote 3 or 4 papers per class, per semester and I enjoyed every paper I wrote. The process of preparing for writing was the most fun, the most rewarding, and the most transformative act in my college career than any other projects we were asked to do.  I cringed at public speaking and quaked at the acting required in Medieval Drama, but I did them and cannot say they did anything for me except make me nauseous. No, the part that I enjoyed the most was research, research, writing, and more research. It was like digging for gold or discovering electricity or meeting up with another tunnel that one dug through those mysterious tunnels of ideas in one’s brain. No, I loved the writing process itself.

The sheer joy of reading and research is hard to explain. I think my earlier forays into fundamentalism inside the nuclear family unit to which I was confined in the 80s and 90s fed that need to read and research, even when one’s spirit in that religion was confined to the leather-bound pages of a book said to be the inerrant word of God. One did not have much use for knowledge outside this book, we were told. All we needed to know was in there. Protect your mind from other things, tainted sinful knowledge that had no truck with the bible. But the mind, the curious mind, cannot be confined to such as this. College opened a whole new world for me and truly transformed me far more than religion did. Here was a whole library full of research to be done! I was in my element. Oh I learned my scriptures inside and out as a religious fundamentalist, but when that proved increasingly unsatisfactory, I had to look elsewhere. And I think that what religion did for me in those early years of young motherhood, literature, history, and philosophy did for me later. I needed something to spur me outside my comfort zone. I needed to be pushed to limits not allowed by religion.  But once I had done that and soaked up the knowledge I so greedily feasted upon, then what? Did that transform me? And if it did, in what way was I transformed? I can say now that religion transformed me, but not necessarily in a good way. I needed something more.

Like going to a grocery store with far too many options to choose from and overspending, going to university tossed ideas at me in a similar fashion and left me just as bewildered and spent. There’s this to contemplate, but what about this? How does this relate to that? Some live and die by this ideology but others live by that? Defend this, but ignore that. It was, in some ways overwhelming.  There were far more “isms” to worry about and many more we weren’t supposed to question or offend the proponents of. Writing helped clear all the clutter from my brain when it got to be too much. Keeping a journal for over 30 years has been as transformative a tool as any amount of meditation has (or medication for that matter). Writing on blogs has similar purgative qualities. But are we only purging? What is the intentional writer and how can it be meaningful in a society full of those talking more than those listening, those writing more than those reading?

Susan Yanos makes a very good point in “Wielding Thor’s Hammer, What it Means to Write as Ministry:”

Because truth lies within each of us, the creative process is the discipline writers embrace in order to encounter the mystery of the truth of their experiences and of their beings.

In other words, I write to know myself. I read to reveal the truth in myself in sympathy with the author’s words. I write because I want it to change my own personality somehow, not just to be a better writer but to be a better person. Yet, I am so often discouraged not only by the sheer numbers of good writers out there, but by the outrage attached to much of it, especially in blogs and online news editorials.  I am hesitant to jump out there with an opinion because I feel there are those lying in wait to pounce on every opinion and rip it to shreds. It’s an attack that feels very personal and the armor instantly comes up. I feel like that poor water buffalo at the watering hole. Every other elk has hightailed it out of there because of the tiger crouching in the weeds, licking its chops and I’m left pondering to myself, “What? Where’d everybody go?” just as I get eaten or taken down by the throat. I leave my opinions unwritten and safe in my own head. Yet, the need is still there. Is this why some of the best bloggers sometimes wish to remain anonymous or to find safer blog waters in which to swim? Is this why they disappear? I think so. But I must slog on. Yanos writes:

What I do think Whitman meant is that when poets undertake the search for meaning, for truth, in such an intentional way, they not only write poems that capture that truth, they actually live the truth, they then become the truth themselves. When Abraham bargained with God over the outcome of Sodom, he discovered, not that God could be bargained with, but that good is far more powerful than evil. Even ten good men could transform and save a city. And whenever Moses complained to God about his inability to perform the ministry God had laid before him, he learned that God could transform his perceptions of himself as a murderer, as an inept prophet, or as a leader separate from the sinful actions of his people….

The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno once said that we will be judged not so much by what we have done as by what we hoped to be. Now we may be tempted to reply to him that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. However, Unamuno is not talking about the difference between intention and action. If we truly hope for something, we will make every effort to achieve it. Our desire will be the center and motivator of our lives. Our desire will possess us until we become that desire. Whether we accomplish the goal is irrelevant because we have become the goal.

Assuming that there is a God to which we have to answer, this is comforting, to know that we turn into what we hope for to become the goal itself. If I hope to be a good writer, someone who will make a difference perhaps, then my striving to do so will accomplish the very purpose I so much want to see. Transformation will take place and so slowly I do not notice. I can only hope..

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One thought on “What Transforms Us

  1. Thank you for this. If we don’t strive, we will never know what we might be capable of. If your purposes in self-expression are not aggressive, it would be a loss to the rest of us if you were deterred by those whose purposes are aggressively beligerent.

    As for #”good intentions”, if we really intend something, we will try are best to achieve it. My intentions are revealed by the work I engage in, not by how many times I say “I really must do something about that”. We will learn, even from projects we can’t immediately complete. As we’ve said to our children, all we can do is give it our best shot, and we will know in our hearts if that’s true or not. Every time we make a little progress in overcoming our own shortcomings, be they lack of courage, inertia, or sinking back into former habits of thought we wish to outgrow, that is transformative.
    I wish us all a fair wind, and all the help we can get.

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