After almost five years of blogging twice a week, I have been more or less silent on the internet front these past six months. In that time I have written poetry (actually, it doesn’t deserve that name; it’s merely word-play, but such fun!), my first short story in four years, and the beginnings of a children’s novel.
The temptation is to keep these things to myself. The world hasn’t exactly rejoiced with singing over my last two books, and I want to protect these new words I’ve written, protect myself, from the pain of putting them out there in the world only to be ignored. It is not a wholly petulant response, though I admit there is a bit of pouting involved.
Then a friend lent me his copy of Share Your Work by Austin Kleon. After I read it, I thought, Maybe I shouldn’t hoard what I’m writing.
And then Sarah Clarkson wrote a beautiful post over on The Rabbit Room. (If you don’t know Sarah’s writing, click this link and sign up for her blog. She writes 2-3 posts each month, and every word is honey. Or gold. Or both.) Sarah first quotes Denise Levertov:
I believe poets are . . . makers, craftsmen: it is given to the seer to see, but it is then his responsibility to communicate what he sees, that they who cannot see may see, since we are ‘members one of another.’
Then she reflects:
[T]his idea of Levertov’s startles and even stings me. She seems to class writing with spiritual imperatives like loving your neighbor and telling no lies…I’ve never thought of sharing my writing as a duty; perhaps I’ve seen my best pieces, the ones I actually like, as glimpses of beauty I simply must pass on, but I’ve certainly never thought of that sharing as an imperative in the same class as adherence to the golden rule. I like the luxury of considering my inner world a private one to be shared only when, and if, I desire.
(You simply must read the whole thing.)
Sarah’s post felt like a providential nudge, pointing me in a direction I was already starting to look.
I see writing for the joy of writing as a great gift, as in a gift to me. But she spoke of our obligation to show those words to the world, to help others see what we see, those of us who require of the world depth and meaning and beauty.
At some point in the not-too-distant past, I knew that. I knew that my writing isn’t really mine at all. At least I think I did. But then I wrote a book. And then I wrote another book. And I saw my name blazoned across the top of each one, and I was elated, even proud.
But very few people besides me cared about those books with my name across the top, and I curled up into a ball and licked my wounded pride. (St. Augustine called this inward-curving posture incurvatus in se. He also called it sin.) I won’t say the whole of these past six months of internet non-engagement have been pouty. They’ve been really rich, as I said above. But I’m beginning to see again that these months have been rich not so that I can hoard what’s been given to me, but so that I can share what’s been given to me. Sarah (and Denise Levertov) would say that I am obligated to share what’s been given to me.
And I’m slowly, feet dragging (and sometimes kicking) coming to believe they’re right. I come to this reluctantly because there’s a catch here, and I don’t like it:
My obligation to share is not the same as readers’ obligation to read. They’re under no such compulsion. Poets and prophets are compelled by their vocation to speak what they see. But their hearers’ response they cannot control. Whether hearers respond in numbers or not, the call remains, and I cannot expect that my obedience to that call will mean success, at least not as the world sees success. So far, it hasn’t. And it’s possible it never will.
But that doesn’t matter. What matters is obedience. If I am called to write—and I am—then I must write. Whether people read is not my problem, not my responsibility, not my business. As my friend Cindy says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
And here’s why:
The good shepherd went in search of the one lost sheep. The prodigal father threw a big party for the one son who was lost and came home. The sweeping widow rejoiced over the one lost coin that she found.
I think Jesus’ favorite number was one. He was all about the one. Not the many. The one. He didn’t have a huge following. His Twitter numbers were modest, at best. He called not the people, but the person: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Martha, Mary. Each of them, by name.
It is so hard in this bigger-is-better, fame-is-all culture to believe that expending hours and weeks and years of work and sweat and tears to change, or even simply touch, one life is worth it. Hard to believe, and even harder to live.
I know. I live daily with the “failure” of both my books—failure in terms of numbers sold. And it is hard. But that is part of the deal. The calling to write does not include the guarantee of an audience, except the audience of One.
And who am I to scorn the audience of One? But I do. Oh, I do.
Yet—oh marvelous yet—when I sit down with a pen and paper or with fingers poised above the keyboard, I know that the audience of One is enough. Enough for me. Enough for anyone. It is only what my husband calls my “theology of scarcity” that convinces me I need more. I don’t. Here, now, writing this, I know that. Other days these past months when I have written out my heartache and anger and gotten to the end of myself, I have known it.
All the old saints knew it. They assure me that God alone is sufficient, that having Him and nothing else is all I need.
I believe this; oh help my unbelief.
Photo by Susan Forshey. Used by permission.