The long green leaf of the orchid in the kitchen window has unfurled like a dark, shiny tongue, a precursor, I hope, to a new spike of dazzling purple blossoms.
I stood at the sink admiring it, my hands in warm soapy water as I washed the dishes after supper, while appreciating too the newly installed faucet, that only this morning replaced its leaking, thirty-year old predecessor. A quiet moment of tranquility, often a ritual of gentle mindfulness for me [read “Washing the Dishes, Tending the Earth“], except that I was churning with angst.
Last week, I took a bold step and sent the early draft of my unpublished manuscript, “Fields, Foxes and Tea,” to two friends for perusal. Having an early reader(s) is new territory for me and feels vulnerable, like walking on stony ground with bare, tender feet. Though they have only just received the pages, two days ago I began my next round of edits on the initial chapters, gutting entire paragraphs and sections, and I’ve been gripped by remorse that it was too soon to share the work. The draft is too workmanlike, and I should never have let it out of my clutches, even to someone trusted.
Oh, the folly of it all. Yet it was only a few weeks ago that I wrote a post inspired by a quote from Welsh-born poet David Whyte, a reflection on inhabiting our vulnerability, and choosing the ways we become more visible. In letting the early draft be read by others, I was certainly “walking my talk.”
My inner critic laments that they will see at last that I am not a real writer but merely an imposter, and I will be exposed for my utter lack of skill: passive voice; repetitive sentence structure; poor punctuation skills; a mishmash of British and American spellings; repeated use of pet words; unable to decide what is superfluous and what has real grit; inconsistent voice; rambling descriptions that “tell” but don’t “show” while leading nowhere in advancing the story; ad nauseum.
Angst … a cold hand squeezing my guts and slowly forcing the breath out of me.
As if it weren’t uncomfortable enough to have friends seeing my naked draft for all its flaws, an internationally famous author on the other side of the world is simultaneously doing the same. What a brazen, impatient fool am I.
The yellow sponge in my hand caressed the large dinner plate’s painted design of Turkish flowers, and part of me wanted to simply submerge my head in the sudsy water to drown the anguished chatter. At the very least, I wished that I could grab back the copies of the manuscript and remain in safe territory where I could quietly polish, polish, polish—until the work gleams like untarnished silver, and only then offering it forward with a sense of modest worth and pride.
It is risky enough to pen a memoir, a venture that so easily tips into narcissism—the “ME-moir”—a trap I have tried to avoid. Ultimately, any book that I write needs to be about something larger than simply me (or us), it must sing to the larger story and the reasons we are alive. All of us.
“It will tell something remarkable. It will be beautifully executed. It will be nested in truth.” Words of Barbara Kingsolver, they are written on an old piece of paper pinned next to my desk, a gentle reminder for what I hope to accomplish. A wide-open roadmap of sorts.
Gently scrubbing a turquoise-glazed, hand thrown mug while reflecting what my two friends and the famous author were currently reading, I couldn’t feel further from said writing goal. And yet, awash in my clamorous anguish and vulnerability, I simultaneously felt beautifully human. Flawed and perfect in the same shining moment, fully inhabiting my exposed authenticity.
Words do not always flow inspired and sparkling from my pen; more often they are clunky, slow and lifeless. Better, I think, to simply get them down on paper and refine them later than to sit fishing and anguishing for a single beautiful line. Still, how impetuous of me to share this early work. Dumb, really.
I wanted to send an urgent message to my friends: “Change of plan. Please burn and destroy BEFORE reading, not after.”
I have set nearly everything in my life aside to embrace this work with words, but perhaps I have too much invested in being a writer, or an artist, rather than simply being. Just this morning, after waking from a powerfully auspicious dream, an email arrived from my author friend in Italy, gently encouraging the same idea—less attachment and angst, more being—and to trust.
So, onward I go with pages and pen in hand, a cup of green tea beside me, endeavoring to create something of beauty and honest vulnerability that touches the soul. Reminding myself that even great cathedrals are built simply from stones, chiseled and laid one at a time by rough hands, a work that took years (lifetimes, even) to complete.
Friend, as I wrote a few weeks ago in the “Inhabiting our Vulnerability” post (which oddly Facebook said didn’t exist, and almost no one but you subscribers got to read):
Each day a hundred opportunities exist to play it safe, to hold back, to turn away from that quiet inner voice that whispers the bare truth. Step into the circle of authenticity instead, the ring of Soul Artists.
There is no real safety in the world, it is mostly an illusion. And we can never freely move, dance, make love, or live fully when wearing our armor. Equally true for writing.
The dear orchid on the windowsill doesn’t lament or fret that its newly unfolded leaf isn’t good enough, long or shiny enough, it simply keeps on growing—even now summoning its energy to put forth a new display of stunning flowers. How simple, really. It is only we humans who make things complicated, always forgetting there is but one true imperative: