“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” (Abraham Maslow)
I have collected quotations for many years—inspirational quotes, humorous ones, profound, wise, and enigmatic ones. Hundreds of them are tacked onto cork board that lines one wall of my home office. Many are yellowed with age or so faded that I can barely read them. I often find myself standing in front of this assemblage and reacquainting myself with wise thinkers and thoughts, with ahas that speak directly to the heart of an attentive life. It’s always a pleasure to find a new quote and squeeze it onto the wall. There will be no Marie Kondo-ing of this space.
One quote that found me a couple of years ago, and was also immediately given both wall space and a spot on my writing desk, is by Sean Thomas Dougherty:
“Right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”
“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.” (Andre Dubus III)
Recently, I was invited to submit a guest article for the SheWrites.com author blog. They suggested that I write about the connection between kindness and writing.
Over the last four years, I’ve explored kindness from every angle I could think of—and some were a bit of a stretch (baseball, jazz, cats). But I hadn’t thought much about kindness and writing, even though they’re two of my favorite things.
I’m pretty happy with the resulting article. Since it wouldn’t be proper to reprint the entire post here, I’m including the first couple of paragraphs and then a link to the full article on the SheWrites site. I hope it resonates for you.
What do writing and kindness have to do with one another? Why not conflate writing and prudence, or kindness and water-skiing? Is there more than just a passing connection between these two wondrous endeavors? Could it be that there’s an important place for kindness in the writer’s life and process?
In my multi-year exploration of kindness, I’ve noticed that some of the principles of living a kind life can also be applied to living the writerly life. There are skills that must be cultivated to extend kindness: learning to pause, learning to stay present and pay attention, withholding judgment, and employing curiosity, to name just a few. These same skills power a good writer. Where would we be without the capacity to wonder why, or notice details, or allow our story to unfold without judging our writing or our characters too quickly? Kindness also requires that we be patient, that we take the time necessary to achieve our desired goals. Writing? Ditto. And kindness asks us to overcome inertia and our own innate laziness to extend ourselves outside our comfort zone. Writing? Yep, that, too.
“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.” (Simone Weil)
A few years ago, I was in a small village in Scotland and had an opportunity to listen to a local author. One of the notes I took from her talk—delivered in such a delightful brogue—was the comment, “What’s for you won’t go by you.” This saying has its roots in Scotland, but as so often happens, I subsequently encountered it in many places.
I’ve had the phrase pinned to my bulletin board ever since that trip. It comforts me and it also troubles me—as good ideas often do. I like the notion that what’s meant for us will persist until we find it. But it seems both facile and dangerous to assume that what I need to live the life of breadth and depth I desire is hovering patiently somewhere nearby.