Chapter 8: Discover
In young adulthood, married with kids, I maintained this practice of writing both privately and publicly, preserving parts of my identity, keeping them from being swallowed into the chaos of young children.
I want to write about important things, or about seemingly insignificant things in important ways.
For me, these two quotes (the first from Ann, the second from Charity) are related. I preserve parts of my identity apart from my writing. To do that, my strategy has been to write about seemingly insignificant things in important ways.
There are things I’m not ready to share. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be. But here’s a little secret: I write about those things all the time, just in other, insignificant ways—when I write about my dogs, that maple tree that died in the drought, these comforting gray days.
It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”
It’s the trivial things of life that add up to meaning. When a friend of mine was a missionary in China and we couldn’t write openly about what they were doing, it really wasn’t a problem. We emailed about the things we had always talked about–husbands, kids, books, fashion. And when my mom was dying, we didn’t talk about the big stuff (not much). We talked about family gossip and books and movies and, “Isn’t that lady’s shawl lovely?” And then my mom would strike up a conversation and get the woman’s life story.
Here’s a secret: If you want to know the things that I don’t want to share, it’s usually in my poetry. For example, my poem “God’s Country” was started after my cousin Ashley’s death, four miles north of Happy, Texas. On the drive home, through towns few Texans know, like Bronte, I thought of Utopia, a little further south. So I used the names of the towns—Happy and Utopia—as stand-ins for the things they evoke: happiness, paradise. I could write about grief while writing about the glorious sunrise at mile marker 95, where we pulled off, and my brother put up a cross. A lot of that didn’t make it’s way into the poem, but for me, it’s all still there.
The poet Robert Frost did that much better than I. His poems float lightly upon an ocean of sadness. All he asks you to do is look at the wooden boat and the sky, consider where that empty bottle came from.