When I was 20, I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and it changed my life.
I had secretly been writing my entire short life. Writing Down the Bones suddenly put perfect clarity on the subject for me. I was a writer. I had always felt it but I had never thought that a regular person like me could own the word ‘writer’ and so it never occurred to me that I might be one.
Natalie’s words gave me permission to not only do it, but to own it.
It was a defining moment of my life. I was living on a dude ranch in Western Colorado lying on my creaky bed reading her little paperback book that I had found on Main Street. The windows were wide open and I remember the sweet smell of fallen apples from the orchard blowing through the room. It was a perfectly perfect day.
Natalie’s words brought a specific truth and reality to me. It was a little stunning. I put the book down, stood up and paced around the room all afternoon until the sun set, often returning to book for brief periods to be certain.
I was certain. I was a writer.
My heart & head exploded with this new understanding as I tried to portend how this new identity might play out in the many remaining years of my life. I wrote furiously during the next couple of years. I penned numerous short stories, poetry, journal entries, newspaper editorials and letters to family & friends. I looked for any excuse to write.
I joined a women’s writing group made up of women in their 40’s & 50’s. It was exhilarating to have them accept me as one who writes. They were courageous and outspoken. As they read the things they had written to the group, I saw that they had a deep well of experience to draw from. They wrote beautifully, poignantly and with deep empathy for the world.
I also saw that I did not. And this crushed me.
I could see no way for me to write anything meaningful or substantial given my youth and inexperience. My writing was not poignant or graceful in my eyes. I didn’t feel that I had enough life experience to draw from. I wasn’t a courageous person.
I put my pens down, put away the journals and gave it up. Completely.
I told myself I would come back to it after living. After I had years of experience to share and a better understanding of the world. I told myself that only after living a while could I possibly come up with something useful to write.
I could not find bravery to meet the world with my words standing firmly where I was at the time.
That was more than 20 years ago.
Imagine if no one ever put anything out into the world until they felt ‘ready’ in mid-life? How many beautiful stories would have never been told, musical masterpieces never written, art never created. It’s a ridiculous concept. But only in looking back these last few years do I see how I so clearly missed the real message.
Today I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and feel my story as a writer coming full circle. Elizabeth so beautifully explains how great ideas and inspiration can flit past you and if you don’t grab on to them, they will continue carrying along until someone else does.
How many ideas have I allowed to pass me by while I waited to live ‘enough’ to write? How many times have I turned the volume so low on inspiration that I couldn’t have possibly heard her whispers? How many years have I let the river of creativity flow past me while I watched and waited for an invite to take a dip?
I have lived and experienced so much since that day at the ranch when clarity tapped me on the shoulder and told me to open my eyes. I was so enamored with the possibility she whispered in my ear that I didn’t hear the second part of her message.
I missed the part about carrying on with intention, purpose and hard work. I didn’t hear the riff about bravely meeting the world in your current state and standing tall in your today. I let the message of persistence get carried away on the breeze that day. I heard Natalie’s prod of permission to call myself a writer, but not her even clearer call to just be brave and write down the bones of your life as it is today.
Thank you Natalie for the gift of realization and being the first person to give me permission to be me. I’m sorry I didn’t catch the full message that day and misunderstood your real call to action.
Thank you Elizabeth for sending another gentle breeze my way and floating Natalie’s call to action past me one more time. You sprinkled just enough magic on just the right day when all is still and I’m finally listening.
I declared my intentions at the start of the year. This is the year of Doing Big Things.
As many other have said before me, there’s magic in sharing your intentions with the universe. Doors open, paths unfold and the universe will rise up to meet you.
Declare your intentions to the world and then listen carefully. The universe just might hear you and toss a little message your way on the wind…