When I awake in the morning, the first thing I do is think of my children and prayerfully wish them a safe and fulfilling day. My grandchildren too. That’s how my mind works–a day is open to accomplishments. And so I wish for them a bundle of good stuff (those things they will achieve) and thus can claim for their own. No day should end with a big bunch of emptiness, unless we’re sick!
As a mother, I’m sure my children often felt some pressure from my encouragement. I remember sitting near the front door with my son, going over spelling words as we waited for the carpool. I suppose we could have been telling each other jokes or being happy about the weather. And maybe we sometimes were. But many times I was squeezing in that last math fact or spelling word before he started his day.
As a mother, I filled up many day-moments teaching and encouraging, guiding my children toward school goals and extra-curricular goals–even if the latter simply meant driving them to dance, gymnastics or baseball and making sure they had the “right stuff” for the activity. Turns out that believing in what your children can do is half the battle for them to achieve the “right stuff.” Parents can light the fire to achievement in their children, but we all must learn how to step back and let it burn.
The second thing I think of as I’m rousing myself for the day is WHAT WILL I ACCOMPLISH. I make a mental list and being at the stage of life I am, there are few interruptions to alter my list–except the excuses I might make to prevent me from “making it happen.” Let’s just say I have the freedom to make excuses, but I try not to.
My goal: to be a serious writer.
The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.
I had to share that with you. It’s radically different from what I might have answered. But it makes perfect sense. Serious writing probes. It pushes down through the layers of life, asks important questions, examines and offers up answers. And this occurs in non-fiction and in fiction. Reading is a profound experience that can transport someone who is dying back to life. It can offer beauty and joy to someone who is downtrodden. It can be an escape or have the effect of awakening. As Sarah says: If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.
I believe this is true of many art forms. Do you paint, scrapbook, work in clay, or spend your days painting furniture and walls? Valley Burke is an RN. She was born with severe myopia and was considered legally blind. But she found LIFE in art and began to draw as soon as she could hold a pencil. Burke writes: “As a patient, painting, drawing provided an invaluable outlet wherein I was able to go beyond the pain, nausea, fear, grief and sadness.” Later in her nursing life, Burke offered her art work to hospitals and saw that her work helped patients heal. Being involved in art can provide all of us with profound feelings of accomplishment.
Burke advises: “create a sacred space in your environment…dedicate a room and in this space, do what nourishes you. It can be writing, music, meditation, yoga, painting, drawing–anything that uplifts your spirit.”
Of course my space is for writing. And some days I can claim accomplishments. Others, the muse has abandoned me.
Sarah Manguso also writes: All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility. And a humble person, faced with the superior product of another, does not try to match it or best it out of spite. A humble person, and only a humble person, is capable of praise, of allowing space in the world for the great work of others, and of working alongside it, trying to match it as an act of honor.
Sarah’s words inspire me. I will always read and be filled up by the work of serious writers. I will always find myself transported by a sentence, a scene, the depth of a character. Will my writing do the same? I can strive, I can hope. I will be humble. And as Sarah underlines: allow space in the world for the great work of others–all the while doing my work, trying to match theirs as an act of honor. And I know that in following that goal, I will make it a good day!
What are you working on? What accomplishments can you claim for your day?
Thanks to You Tube, The New York Times and Nurse.com