“A Poet.” That was my answer when someone asked 5 year old me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Who wants to be a poet when they grow up? How did I even come up with that? What I know is that I clearly remember the question being asked of me and knowing the answer. I remember where I was standing. I remember the color of the sunlight.
I wrote poetry as a kid. I entered poetry contests. I did not win. If other people in my little pissant school were already better writers than I was, how would l ever publish a poem? Clearly, I have not the talent, teenager me concluded. I felt the book of poetry close on me.
“I wanted to be a poet when I grew up.” That’s what I said to the guy next to me on the plane. He was reading a book of poetry.
Who reads a book of poetry? Evidently, this guy with the long, wavy dark hair. As the attendants served drinks, we did the airplane thing where you acknowledge, after a couple of hours of studied avoidance, the person who has been sitting next to you. I nodded at the thick, anthology-like book open on his tray table, “Is that poetry you are reading?” “Yes,” he answered and he shared that he frequently read poetry. “I don’t know that I have ever heard of someone reading poetry as something to read, like a book or a magazine, on an airplane,” I said. Then confessed, “I wanted to be a poet when I grew up. But I was not any good. I didn’t seem to have any talent.”
I can still see his face and his book, open to a double-page spread of naked poetry lounging on the tray table in the middle of the large plane. “Do you write poetry now?” he wanted to know. “No,” I laughed. He was serious, “If you want to be a poet you have to write.”
“You should write a book.” That’s what one of the most well-known marketing leaders in Atlanta said to me. I huffed a laugh, waving the comment off. He said it in front of a table full of people to whom I had just voiced my Theory of the Brown Couch.
You should write a book? Did he just say that? Did I hear right? The words were so beautiful to my ears. Was I even breathing? Write a book? I wish, I thought, I wish could write.
Who would read what I wrote? As a marketer, I wrote website copy, and whitepapers and blog posts and tweets all day every day. I knew good writers. I hired them. I knew I was not a great copy writer. I was slow, for one thing, three hundred words took me too long to complete. I wrote, but was not a writer. Who wants to spend so much of their time doing something that you don’t feel you are good at?
“If you want to be a better writer you have to write.” That’s what I said to myself.
Maybe wanting to be good held me back? What if I did not worry about writing well? What if I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I decided I would practice just a handful of skills. It would be about honing tiny skills, a practice, like my sister’s yoga practice, or my pitiful meditation practice.
- Sit down to write at least once a week
- Start with a minimum of 300 words at a sitting; then put in more work, stretch to, say, 500 words at a time.
- Write in active voice.
- Refrain from ‘to be’ verbs.
- Vary my sentence length.
- Topic: Did it matter? No, it didn’t.
Writing is a discipline for me, like running. Like those who feel a runner’s high, I can find a peaceful flow focusing the words in my head to form a sentence in black Times New Roman with metaphors marching in formation or laying around at ease.
I would practice saying something in writing; like the guy on the airplane said, like the guy in the conference room advised. I wanted to be writing, to be at work: two hands one keyboard. My voice, singing silently in joyous and miserable words. My soul pouring itself out in tiny half cups of honey and hot sauce. And somehow finding a way to tie the thoughts together into a sailor’s knot of ideas, true and strong.
Yet, I find, as a Southerner with story telling thrumming in my blood stream, that I love discovering the final sentence of the piece, the punch line. In the seconds as I type my tiny delicious ironical sentence, I feel the words of Hesse: “Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.” It’s the twist, the revelation of me to me, that makes me chuckle, where I feel an affinity with the eternal, like the archer that perhaps misses the bullseye, maybe even the entire target, but gets a sense of purposeful one-ness from the thwang of the bow string.
There is the story of the art student experiment where one half of the students would be graded on the single piece of pottery they turned in. The other group would only be graded on the number of pots they turned in, fifty pots were an A, forty yielded a B, and so on. As the story goes, the best work came from the hands of the workers who produced over and over.
Mistakes giving way to experience,
experience begetting skill,
skill conjuring unconsciousness,
unconsciousness creating jokes,
jokes revealing eternity.
Yes, my friends, I decided to write. I would write not to win a contest, or for a grade, or to publish a book. I would write to write. I would write, well, as nothing more than a joke.
See what I did there?
Leave a Reply