The long green leaf of the orchid in the kitchen window has unfurled like a dark, shiny green tongue—a precursor, I hope, to a new spike of dazzling purple blossoms.
I stood at the sink admiring it, my hands in warm soapy water as I washed the dishes after supper, while appreciating too the newly installed faucet, which only this morning replaced its leaking, thirty year old predecessor. A quiet moment of tranquility this, often a ritual of gentle mindfulness for me [read “Washing the Dishes, Tending the Soul“], except that I was churning with angst.
A week ago, I took a bold step and sent the early draft of my new manuscript to two friends for advance reading. Having an early reader(s) is new territory for me and feels vulnerable, like walking on sharp, stony ground with bare, tender feet. Two days ago, I began the latest round of edits on the work, gutting entire paragraphs and pages, and I’ve been gripped by remorse. It was too soon to share the work, the draft too rough, and I should never have let it out of my clutches, even to a friend.
Damn. The folly of it all.
Yet it was only a few weeks ago that I wrote a post for my weekly blog inspired by a quote from Welsh-born poet David Whyte, a reflection on inhabiting our vulnerability, and choosing the ways we become more transparent. In giving the early draft to others, I was certainly “walking my talk.”
My inner critic laments that they will see at last that I am not a real writer but merely a charlatan, and I will be exposed for my utter lack of skill: passive voice; repetitive sentence structure; poor punctuation skills; repeated use of pet words; rambling descriptions that “tell” but don’t “show” while leading nowhere in advancing the story; ad nauseum.
Angst. Like a cold hand squeezing my guts and slowly forcing the breath out of me.
As if it weren’t uncomfortable enough to have two friends seeing my naked draft for all its flaws, an internationally famous author on the other side of the world is simultaneously doing the same. What a brazen, impatient fool I am.
The yellow sponge in my hand caressed the large dinner plate with its painted design of Turkish flowers, and part of me wished to simply submerge my head in the sudsy warm water to drown my inner critic. At the very least, I wished that I could grab back the copies of the manuscript, remaining in safe territory where I could quietly polish, polish, polish until the work gleamed like spotless silver. To only then offer it forward with a sense of modest worth and pride.
It is risky enough to write a memoir—it’s a venture that so easily tips into narcissism, which is a trap I have tried to avoid. Ultimately, any book that I write needs to be about something larger than simply me, it must sing to the larger story and the reasons we are alive. All of us.
“It will tell something remarkable. It will be beautifully executed. It will be nested in truth and myth.” These are the words I keep next to my desk on an old piece of paper, a gentle reminder for what I hoped to accomplish.
A wide open roadmap of sorts.
Gently scrubbing the turquoise blue, hand thrown cup while reflecting what my two advance readers and the famous author were currently reading, I couldn’t feel further from my goal. And yet, awash in my clamorous angst and vulnerability, I simultaneously felt beautifully, fully human. Flawed and perfect in the same shining moment, fully inhabiting my exposed authenticity.
Words do not always flow inspired and sparkling from my pen. More often they are chunky and slow. Yet better, I think, to simply get them down on paper and polish them later, than to sit fishing and anguishing for a single beautiful line.
I wanted to tell my friends, “Please burn and destroy before reading, not after.”
In recent years, I have set nearly everything in my life aside to embrace this work with words, and yet perhaps I have too much invested in being a writer, or an artist, rather than simply being.
Just this morning, after waking from a powerfully auspicious dream, an email arrived from my famous author friend gently encouraging the same thing…and to trust.
So, onward I go, pages and pen in hand, endeavoring to create something of beauty and honest vulnerability that touches the soul, reminding myself that even great cathedrals are built simply from stones, chiseled and laid one at at a time by hand, a work that took years (a lifetime, even) to complete.
Friend, as I wrote a few weeks ago in a post, “Inhabiting our Vulnerability” (which oddly Facebook said didn’t exist, and almost no one but my subscribers got to read), each day a hundred opportunities exist to play it safe, to hold back, to turn away from that quiet inner voice that whispers the bare truth. Step into the circle of authenticity instead, the ring of Soul Artists.
The orchid on the windowsill doesn’t lament or fret that its newly unfolded, tender leaf isn’t good enough, long or shiny enough; it simply keeps on growing, even now summoning its energy to put forth a new display of stunning flowers. How simple, really. It is only we humans who make things complicated.
There is no real safety in the world, it is mostly an illusion. And we can never freely move, dance, make love, or live fully when wearing our armor.
We must cast it aside and risk it all, remembering our one true imperative:
Author: LR Heartsong
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Søren Øxenhave at Flickr