The Things That Follow You Home

 “Keep your intelligence white hot and your grief glistening so your life will stay fresh.” ~ Rumi


It's November now: Wood smoke seeps into my clothes and follows me around, everywhere.

It's been so sweet to be writing again, and connecting to that side of myself in a more potent way. Feeling like no matter what happens going forward, this is real. And getting such strong feedback has been admittedly affirming.  Someone said my words were like "little bonfires" on the page (swoon!), that my voice is "distinct and gorgeous". A person I admire said they "literally could not stop reading" my blog, and another said it makes their "wild heart go pitter-patter."

I'm sharing that not so much to pat myself on the back, but more to say: I'm learning to trust myself as a writer, and it feels really fucking good.  If I'm honest with myself, I've never felt this way before before. Not really.

I've done a lot of writing. You could say on and off since forever. But, I've also stopped many, many times, talked myself out of it even more times, and used every excuse possible to convince myself why it wouldn't work out, anyway. There's always something more "important" than being creative, isn't there?

Actually, I'm realizing there's possibly not anything else as important as creativity, but you wouldn't know it unless you go right into the thick of your own cauldron and break it open with your bare hands.  You have to find it the boiling point inside yourself, and make of it what you will.

It's strange and slightly intoxicating to just be getting the download for real now (for-real, for-real) from the universe now, from my body, from having a baby over two years ago, which shook a whole other layer of myself wide open.  I don't know if creativity always goes in tandem to some kind of transformation in life, but it certainly brings out some kind of rapacious hunger in myself.

And yet, writing has always been a part of me. As a little girl I made up stories to keep myself entertained.  I would fill up drugstore bought spiral bound notebooks, and fill the pages, cover to cover.  I remember chewing the ends up of my pencils and pens, and loving the slightly metallic taste of them that was cold and fresh as air — a habit that has carried over into adulthood if I don't catch myself.

I would often tell these stories, or read them to my parents. We lived on Mission Hill, in Boston, MA in a house my parents built (building houses runs in the family, I suppose), and I would spend hours upon hours wandering throughout that urban, yet fecund plot lot of land, digging up wild onions and finding my voice. That thing you can't be taught, but that you learn from the inside-out. It was all around and ripe for the taking. I remember sitting on my mother's very pregnant lap outside on some lush, Spring day, and rubbing her full belly. A part of me already wondering if anything would ever feel so good again. She ran her fingers through my white-blond hair and said, "you're going to be a writer, Moriah."  I've since discovered my mother doesn't understand a lot of things about me, but I do know that she saw that piece of me right away and from the beginning.

I think there's something especially powerful about those imprints we take on early on, and then what we make of them later.

I studied creative writing in college and I wrote a lot, and some of it was OK. By then I knew I had a knack for it, but I also felt bogged down by the "rules" of writing, of craft, of academia, of having to decide if I was a poet or a fiction writer, or neither. I studied with some amazing and prolific writers at The New School, so there was plenty of opportunity to learn and grow, and I am grateful for that. But, I sometimes felt bored more than turned on in the classroom, which does not lend itself very well to art-making. I felt much more inspired and much more myself wandering around New York City, in much the same way I did on Mission Hill. Whatever was wild, whatever fragrant note was in the air would always grab my attention, and follow me back home.

Another thing that perplexed me: my writing never seemed to get better the more I revised or "worked at it". When I was on, it just seemed to come from some rich well of feeling and flow.  I didn't have to work at it much: it was either there, or it wasn't. Which isn't to say writing doesn't get better with revision, it absolutely does, and a first-draft isn't the end of the line. But it is to say: sometimes you're on fire with something and you don't know why and that's exactly what you should trust it. That's what I'm finally, FINALLY learning to trust. Voice is a pretty precious commodity in this game.  No one is going to give you to you. You have to take it for yourself.

Which is also to say: there was something else there in the room with me, in the backyard with me, in those New York City streets with me even way back then, some quiet yet sure thing. An almost distinctly electric surge that brought me both far away from where I was, yet closer to myself than I've ever been. I wanted to share it with everyone else, but I also knew it was mine, and mine alone, and part of me wanted to guard it, and hold it very close for as long as possible.

I don't know exactly what that is, but I know when it's there. Call it inner gold, call it spirit, call it desire, call it a high, call it voice: but that place, that feeling, that thing is as real as salt and wine and wind and sea, and when you find it, you have to take it, drink in heavily, and go back for more.

I know I've said this before, and over and over again to myself, but I do believe what makes you feel alive is part of your life's work, and tuning into those sensations and feelings and places when they show up is necessary for us to become who we are, and who we are here to be. Grab hold of that like your life depends on it, because it literally does.

This is a tricky task, for sure, because we don't exactly live in a world that supports us "feeling alive," and there's a lot of baggage most of us experienced as children that does a pretty good job of beating that kind of knowing out of us. For women artists, it's just that much harder. (Plot twist: the patriarchy is real.)  Feeling alive also doesn't always mean feeling good, though I do think feeling good is the direction we want to be moving in. As Joseph Campbell said, and what I turn back into again and again, we're not so much looking for the meaning of life as much as we are looking for the experience of being alive.

I guess you could say I'm just now learning to take my own advice. That what I want to tell my little girl is what I want to tell myself: that you are as real as salt and wine and wind and sea, and it is that good: that alchemy of longing and hunger, of beauty and desire. That there's isn't anyone else quite like you but yourself, and that's about as good as it gets. That you don't have to keep it all to yourself, because there's so much more to come. That what you have to say is exactly what the world needs to hear.

To be continued, for sure...

Moriah Norris-HaleComment