This week’s Love Four All topic is “Love your passion.” Like many people, I have a lot of passions: my family, my friends, cooking, baking, food preservation, sewing. I have interests that I want to cultivate into passions: gardening, yoga. But aside from the precious people in my life, the abundance of love in my life, the bit of faith I have in my life, my biggest passion, my vocational passion is story, language, character. Some days those things are all I think about.
There is nothing I love more than to come across a fantastic word (ponder or cypher) or an interesting phrase (I didn’t go to school just to eat my lunch) or a peculiar habit (I once worked with a woman who scraped deep canyons in her thumb nails with her index fingernails; she was always scraping no matter what she was doing) or an odd enterprise (a woman who fakes mental illness to keep people at bay). It can be simple or intricate, doesn’t matter. It can be in a book or in life, doesn’t matter. I am always collecting, appreciating, marveling.
To be honest, I have been dreading this week’s topic a bit. I have always wanted to write, to be a writer. Most of the people in my life don’t know this. The people who are very close to me know it, but even they’ve only known it for a year or two. For years I never talked about it, at all. Since college, I’ve written stories. I’ve been working on “my little story” since I moved to the country almost seven years ago. But it has only been in about the last two years that I’ve mentioned working on a story. And only to people who are extremely close to me. And still, I’ve had to force myself to tell those people. I mostly did it because I felt I needed to start putting it out there.
I just don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and I don’t exactly know why. Most people don’t really understand the process and, to be fair, they don’t really care. And I get that. Most people don’t care about the process an engineer or social security administrator or wood yard foreman goes through when they are working. I don’t take it personally, but, still, I don’t want to talk about my writing with just anyone.
Part of not feeling comfortable talking about my passion is because it is my secret. These are my characters. Though I’ve been with them a long time, I am still getting to know them. I want to protect them from the world for as long as possible. They are always with me. At the risk of sounding like a nut, they are friends who are always with me. I spend a lot of time with them. Wondering how they would handle this situation or that predicament.
But another truth, another facet of this passion, is that I am hungry for conversation about books and language and story and characters. I don’t have that in my life. I get little tastes, but I want a feast. I love nothing better than to discuss a good book. I often hear more emotion in my voice when I am discussing The Lacuna or The Well and the Mine or Bastard out of Carolina. The thought of a story of my own becoming part of that discussion is enthralling and overwhelming.
Part of wanting to write a story that others read is that I want to be a part of that feast, that larger collective of discussion about story and literature. I want to know that this character of mine made you mad or surprised you or reminded you of someone from your past. I want to know what you felt, enjoyed, contemplated.
When I am in the car by myself, I usually don’t listen to anything. I just think. But, if I do turn anything on it is always from my collection of writing podcasts. My favorite ones, the ones I listen to over and over, are author panels from the Tennessee Williams festival, a writing festival held in New Orleans every spring. I listen to these discussions over and over again. I want Silas House to remind me that I can’t sing a proper hymn to someone without including their faults. I need Rick Bragg to reinforce for me to “hit it lightly” when it comes to dialect. I know what the authors are going to say, but I want to hear them say it again.
Like most readers and writers, I love going into bookstores. I go straight to the literature section and walk the aisles. I see what catches my attention. I touch the covers. I pick up books and feel the edges of the pages, look at the style and size of the font inside. I’ve started taking pictures of covers that I really like. All the pictures in this post are ones I’ve taken with my phone over the past year or two. As I walk the aisles, I think about things like name branding and fonts and colors and art.
One of my favorite things about literature is that the artist is manipulating the viewer, the reader, with nothing more than words. Painters get to use texture and color, size and scale. Cinematographers use spoken words, music, framing, order. The author has only words: black marks on a white page. Nothing else influences the reader. Because of this, I think the author has a more intimate relationship with her reader. That reader has to bring more of herself into the book. Still, the cover is important. Aside from word of mouth, the cover, along with the title or name of the author, brings the reader into the story.
I think the writer’s life is a great way to live—a great way for me to live. It absolutely suits me to a T. I love alone time, time for thought and introspection, but I love people too. I find people absolutely fascinating. I am so interested in how people handle their lives. My brain is very much a processor. I am a terrible arguer because I can never think of anything to say. I need time to be quiet and realize what I think or feel. (Yes, this drives H nuts.)
With all aspects of my life, I have to spend time with myself to know what I want, what I think. I completely agree with Lee Smith, "Narrative is as necessary to me as breathing, as air. I write for the reason I've always done so: simply to survive. To make sense of my life. I never know what I think until I read what I've written. And I refuse to lead an unexamined life." I, too, am much clearer when I’ve had time to write.
So, I’ll probably tuck this passion away again, like a gem in my pocket, just pulling it out every once in a while to share it with someone, but always knowing it is with me, mine. Maybe one day I will be comfortable going public, wearing it on a t-shirt, telling people I meet “Hi, I’m K. I am a writer.” I kind of doubt that though.
Whatever the future holds, whether I never show anyone anything I’ve written again or whether I get to see my books on the shelf at the bookstore, this passion will always be mine. I wouldn’t be me without it.
"In the telling of it, we discover who we are, why we exist, what we should do. It brings order and delight. Its form is inherently pleasing, and deeply satisfying to us. Because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, it gives a recognizable shape to the muddle and chaos of our lives." Lee Smith.