When I was eleven, I wrote the following for English class:
I am an artist,
not with easel and brush,
but with paint.
My paint is words.
Then, I paired colors with the words they represented, in my childish opinion. I don't remember the pairings exactly — angry words for red, sweet words for pink, peaceful words for blue.
You get the idea.
My teacher submitted the poem to one of those little scholastic magazines — the kind with rough 8½ x 11 paper folded and stapled down the middle — where it was published. Decades would pass before I'd submit writing again for publication.
Simplistic as the poem was, I marvel at my knowingness back then, my willingness to state aloud that I was an artist — and even to declare my artistic medium: words. I marvel, in fact, at the knowingness of most young children, before social insanity accosts their personal identities.
Banging on the Door
I've written bits and pieces of poems and essays throughout my life in fits and bursts, and mostly as a way to respond to the stressors of life. However, I didn't pursue the writing path wholeheartedly, as my child self likely expected.
I began my career as a lawyer, a profession enjoyed by some, but one in which I felt I had to assume and occupy another person's body and mind while I worked. Every once in a while, though, I'd be required to draft a company description or an executive biography — a process I genuinely enjoyed. See, I should be writing, I thought.
After that, I stepped on and off career paths in business, consulting, and philanthropy, enjoying each successive path more than the last, but feeling an underlying dissatisfaction. Always, a refrain echoed in the background. I should be writing, it chanted, growing louder and more insistent as I pushed it away from my consciousness, over and over again.
Why did I resist what my child self told me clearly so long ago?
I can visualize her bemused face asking, What's the problem? Didn't I already tell you who you are?
Why didn't I simply write? Why did I waste time banging on the door to my own integrity and knowingness when I held the key in my hand all the while?
Risk and Reward
I've always longed both to understand and to be understood.
On some level, I've always known that, for me, writing could be a means to achieve both — but also that such understanding would come at a high price. I would have to be seen, exactly as I am.
I was unwilling to pay that price. I preferred to remain hidden and safe, to slip on a false front of acceptability, to fly under the radar. However, over these past three years, I have been making these payments by — to the best of my ability —
bringing honesty to the writing process;
allowing my memories and pain and love to infuse the pages;
accepting that others might disagree with what I say, that they might think badly of me as a person;
breathing through the long moments of feeling almost intolerably vulnerable.
Sometimes I think of the risk-reward models used in finance — if one wants a high payout, one has to assume a proportionally high risk. That model seems to apply to the writing universe as well. In return for the emotional risk, I've also reaped substantial and unanticipated rewards:
joy from expressing what's in my heart, from claiming my own voice;
gratitude when others connect to that expression, when they respond I understand. Yes, me, too;
delight when I hear That's exactly what I was thinking, but I couldn't find the words.
Writing is as rigorous as the other lines of work I've pursued — in some ways more so, due to the significant emotional investment required. When I write — no matter the form or genre — I also dig. And as I excavate my interior, amidst my pain and grief and muck, I find jewels. They need to be unearthed and polished, but how they gleam.
And though I've finally opened this doorway, I know that I stand only at the threshold. There is more, always more, to discover, and I must walk through and face it all for the sake of art and craft.
Despite the wrenching work of digging and examining, processing and writing, I am at greater peace than ever before — and this is saying a lot for a person whose mind spins uncontrollably despite meditation and yoga and deep breathing and every other methodology people employ to quiet themselves. At last, I feel that I'm walking the road I'm meant to walk, that I'm coming home to myself.
In the meantime, I am slowly occupying the identity I claimed long ago as a child. I am learning to take a deep breath and introduce myself to the world as an artist — not with easel and brush, but with paint. My paint is words.