Maybe it’s just a coincidence that of all the twenty people at the writing workshop last night, I was the only one with no one sitting on either side of me.
The workshop was lead with almost non-stop talking from the facilitator, who started by making a commitment to writing over talking. A casual columnist on the local paper’s website, her tentpole is being authoritative. For me, that’s not writerly at all; writing is in the questions, not in the answers.
Answers, though, were what she offered along with a tea bag stapled to her card — we might need to hire a consultant — and a shard of blue topaz to empower our heart charkha. She even had the gaul to explain theology to us, what belief systems required (big things) and how we know if we are really believers (exposing ourself to big things.)
The challenge of writing was all about timed exercises where we “used a trick” to “push past the editor.” Any notion of going deeper was played away, down to a woman who was scared putting her truth and rantings on paper in case someone saw them.
The most important part of writing was missed by someone who loved to talk and talk and talk, even during those timed exercises.
My sacrament is listening. I am transfixed when I hear stories which expand my vision of our shared world by opening my mind and heart. I love storytellers who open up their world, their experience, their thinking, their brilliance to me
You can’t be a writer without being a listener; creating language requires engaging it.
When we write, we create order in the noise around us. Bits that only spiral in the air for most people become solid to us, visible on the page.
Creating order reveals disorder, twisted thinking, rationalizations, fears and corruption. Creating order lies bare the mush around and inside of us, allowing us to see it, to sense it, to respond to it.
Listening closely to anything with the intention of pulling out truth, moving to better and more enlightened understanding helps us become aware of the patterns in the world, especially of the patterns inside ourselves. Revelation comes when we see what lies beneath the noise.
I was really hoping the writing instructor had learned to listen, but instead, she just learned to have confidence in her talk. As much as I saw the twists in her monologue, I mostly sat like a polite tranny, only piercing it after she quoted an old trope by Tolstoy (without mentioning him by name) “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
When she failed to explain a question about how that was relevant to “Modern Family” I had to explain that the two sources of conflict, which is key to any story, is someone upsetting the status quo or someone entering a new environment.
I was stunned when of all the note she read, so many irrelevant, she didn’t highlight a quote in her materials:
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
— Carl Jung
Writing, like all art, is an attempt to make the darkness conscious. The process of creation requires us to dig deep, to observe and listen closely, to strive for honesty, striving to find some deeper knowledge.
I didn’t start writing to become an authority. I write because I need to understand a world that seemed to have no place, no support for me. Having to walk through a barrier most people see as solid as gender and finding it to be soft, a flimsy human construction set on the base of mammalian reproductive biology demands a new level of understanding, far from the expected noise.
Something strange happened along the way, though. By listening well, being humble and open to the stories people tell, the ones that encode and reveal their beliefs, I have gained a deeper understanding of the world we share.
Testing my own ideas by writing them down, examining them and comparing them to how others see this world that we share, I have created a pretty clear vision of the patterns moving beneath the noise.
While I don’t hold absolute truth — no human can ever do that, as truth lies in tension, not in absolutes — I do have a useful understanding of what is going on.
The process of making the darkness conscious has made me, and I really want to resist saying this out loud, quite authoritative. I listen well, in a way that lets me surface patterns quickly.
Resisting the desire to be authoritative — to be an author — because I saw too many people who asserted imagined figures of light, remaining smug in their own beliefs by dismissing hard questions, I went instead into the darkness, listening closely.
Bizarrely, that process has made me, well, authoritative. That doesn’t mean that I speak what others want to hear, what they expect to hear, the conventional wisdom. What I bring to light is usually covered by noise in the world, sweet, comforting noise which lets people just spout whatever they want without accountability or challenge.
I resist authority. One of my favourite buttons in high school was “Question Authority.” I know that it’s not my job to confront people; they will heal in their own time and their own way.
Still, I do have my own work to do in the world, a voice to share. I always hope that people will find me fascinating enough to delve into, but I know that the odds are that they will just find me challenging enough to respect.
My work, it seems, is to be authoritative. And the lesson I want people to understand is that they have the answers inside of them, if they just do the work to face their demons, that dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, cutting through the noise, listening closely to the world and finding their connection to what we all share.
Writing isn’t a trick. It’s a trip to a different world, a chance to face the strangers and see what stays real beyond the comfortable conventions that we were issued. Writing leads you past easy fitting in group identities, opening your mind and heart and demanding you know yourself as an individual in the world.
Even if that means you end up sitting apart.