During my recent Holiday Hiatus, I took a break from daily writing. I fired off a few trifling posts, set up Blogger to post one each morning, and then closed my laptop, giving it two weeks of true hibernation. Up to that point, I had made time every day since launching Motherese to sit down and write. But only when I stopped this routine did I realize that I had not only made time to write, I had also made time to think. The act of writing had allowed – had ushered in really – the acts of thinking, of observing, of seeing the ordinary in a new way.
And I wondered: if I stop writing, will I also stop seeing?
Since starting to write, everything I do, everyone I talk to, everyplace I go has become possible material: a baking session with Big Boy, an annoucement from a new mother, a visit to playgroup. And that is both good and bad. On the one hand, I have begun to find new meaning in each moment and have started to think more about being present in every encounter. But on the other, I worry about making characters out of the people I love most; I do not want to mine my family and friends for stories or truths they had not intended to broadcast to a wider audience. I do not wish to use them as means to a revelation.
I went into my vacation thinking about finding a balance, contemplating turning off the x-ray vision of the writer, and wondering if I wanted to.
And then I found some help.
I am in debt to Lindsey at A Design so Vast for introducing me to Anne Lamott. Over the hectic past couple of weeks, I have blazed through two of her books. Her writing bubbles over with the wisdom, humor, and truth of the everyday, whether she is writing about her first year with her son or about, well, writing. In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Lamott offers some clarity and encouragement for those of us fledgling writers trying to figure out what role writing should play in our lives:
In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, “This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.” And the niche may be small and dark, but at last you will finally know what you are doing.
I love this image of myself as a woodpecker, carving out some space in the world for my ideas. And Lamott’s metaphor also helped me find a solution to the question of how to apply a writer’s scrutiny to the business of living and interacting with real people. Now I might just think of the stuff I do, the people I meet, the places I go, the fodder of my life as the twine and twigs that make up my woodpecker’s nest. These fragments support me, they are the foundation of my little hole in the tree, but ultimately it is my pecking – my writing – that tells the story.
Do you see like a writer, gathering the threads of your experience for your own woodpeckerly tales?
Image: Sphyrapicus_nuchalis1.jpg by Factumquintus via Wikimedia Commons. Photo is in the public domain.