It is a word that calls up past acts of piety or love common in a time not our own.
Devotion lives across the street from Duty and in between the houses of Delight and Dour. It is a place, I am finding, that I must visit daily. Even when I don’t particularly have anything to say and would much rather skip it on the way to the store. After all, there is so much to do.
But when I pass by the house of Devotion, when I do not step over the threshold, suddenly my creative urge starts to fail me.
Because in addition to reflecting religious fervor, devotion is also a mark of being “ardently dedicated and loyal” according to ole Merriam-Webster.
When it comes to committing the creative act, we need to be both pious and ardently dedicated.
It helps to be in love, too.
Keeping the appointment
The poet Mary Oliver observes: “writing…is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.” (A Poetry Handbook, 7)
This, for Oliver as well as a host of other writers, is the most important thing. One must set aside a time each day and show up at the desk. Even when you don’t know if any words will come. Maybe, especially when you don’t know if any words will come.
I continue to struggle with this. What do I have to add to the conversation when so many others have already spoken? How can I traverse the space between the thing that makes my body thrum and the words to describe it, make sense of it, and to–on the best days–even make my reader feel it in her own skin? When I was in college a friend once snapped at me, “Jennie, you write as if English is your second language!” The heat behind the comment quickly evaporated, but its meaning has stayed with me. There are times when English does feel like my second language. Problem is, my first language is no language at all, but a way of feeling and moving in the world. Everything I write originates from just that place.
And yet, the bigger the feeling, the more I am driven to put words to it.
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture….” –Elvis Costello
I imagine a pyramid of svelte men and women in bright colored body suits interpreting the majesty of the Empire State Building. Elbow scaffolding, hips that carve space, calve muscles straining chrome. But for me, the joke is that such a comical dance is not just limited writing about music, it’s all writing. To dance about architecture is to aspire to pirouette a fan window or jeté through a portico of air–knowing that when I dance across the stage, it will look a lot more like a shambling gait. And I can call it a rough draft, or a moment of showing up, or even a way of moving from point a to point b. But really I know, this may be as good as it’s going to get. And I might as well call it art because that is what I aspire it to be.
Taking the art challenge
Here’s the deal: chances are if you are reading this you are a creative person. You thrill at those moments when the muse is chatty, and you are poised to take down every word. Problem is, despite your very best intentions, you have trouble keeping the appointment with that shy creature.
Back to Mary Oliver: “Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself–soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all. Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.” (8)
Scary enough for you?
So, check in each week, grab the prompt and go. New prompts will be posted on Tuesday. Find a quiet place and write in response to the prompt for 15-30 minutes. Surely even busy people like you and me should be able to manage that! Only after you have something on paper, take a look or a listen to other examples if you like. Wait a day or three and reread what you wrote. Revise for 30 minutes or so. Feeling inspired? Keep writing with or without the prompt. It’s all golden.
After your initial revision, post what you wrote. Really. I will do the same. This online community would love to see it–and we promise to keep our own editing selves to our selves! In other words, this blog is a place to share your work, not to “fix” the work of others. We will receive it with the open, generous mind of fellow-writers and readers. Comments are welcome as are words of thanks.
My hope is that all this devotion will spill over into other days, other writing. And that is deserving of gratitude, ardent loyal, love, and acts of piety.