Just as dusk began to descend tonight a collection of fireflies appeared in the yard, seemingly from nowhere. Their neon green bellies pulsating sporadically in three dimensions. The image doesn’t bode well in this landscape, in words. You have to see it, and when you do you know precisely what I mean, in whatever way you’ve seen a gaggle of fireflies emerge. Of course the creatures were there all along, somewhere. But it was only in the right contrast that they became prevalent. A cheap metaphor in foresight, sure, but it’s the middle of the night. It’ll have to do for now.
I paced the sidewalk tonight, when I should have been asleep, in a daze of too much thought and not enough clarity. I’d say it’s the curse of a writer, if it didn’t sound so damn pompous. I paced the sidewalk in the dark, attempting to parse my thoughts, to strip away the noise and get down to the nittiest of the gritty.
I don’t know who I am as a writer these days. It’s troubling.
I was away from the words for a long time, away from the process, and the salvation that comes from it. Earlier this year I found it again, the trail that must lead to my voice. I tracked it. I hunted. A faint scent here, a broken branch there; Like so many times before I felt it coming into focus. Then I lost it again.
And now I’m here, at 130 in the morning, chasing a ghost I couldn’t catch on my midnight stroll. I’ve been here before, and if past is indeed prologue I’ll be here again. I’m not wired like the others. I crave to write, to create. It was not merely a teenage passion I would grow out of, as my parents suggested. It has lingered in me for as long as I can remember. It’s the one thing that has consistently rang in my bell tower throughout the myriad of highs and lows of life to date.
It defies all rational thought that a 39 year old man with a desk job, a career, a child and the normal expectations that go along with such things would be up in the wee hours working through prostrations of “finding my voice”. Most people don’t get it. I should put away such childish things, submit to the life I’ve built and be grateful I am afforded a comfortable lifestyle through this work, this desk job, this career. I should turn off my mind and lay my weary head to rest, fetch whatever sleep I can, and move on. But anyone who has banged the keys because they had to will tell you that it just isn’t that simple. I am not that simple. And thank God for that.
I’m reminded of a story told by Corita Kent:
The Balinese have much to teach us about the (non) art of celebration. The making of splendid occasions occupies much of their time. If you ask a Balinese what he does, he will proudly answer “I am a Baris dancer” or “I am a mask maker”. If you persist and ask again “No, I mean how do you get your rice?” he loses interest, his voice drops, he may turn away, deciding this is a pretty boring conversation. “Oh that,” he will say.
I get my rice in a way that has consistently fed me, but it has never fed the part of me that is truly hungry. I’ve struggled for years to balance the necessary pursuit of gainful employment with the desire to run free in the wilderness to scribble and compose. As a younger man I had more freedom to live the life of an artist, although if truth be told I never gave it the focus and energy the passion deserved. Now, well life is different. Others depend upon me for the rice I earn, and while I honestly vouch I do not resent this, I do long for the freedom to pursue being a mask maker, so to speak.
SO I return to the question of balance, and how to achieve it. I return to the words, if nothing more in this instance than a mechanism, through the activity of composition to find harmony between what I must do and what I must do. To begin, I should remember that the fireflies were there all along. That only in the right contrast did they become prevalent.
There is a way to be what is expected and still be what I expect myself, ultimately, to be.
I have to find that path first, and allow for the fact that as Alfred Korzybski once wrote “The map is not the territory”. Balance is more than a position, it is active, it is something to achieve and maintain through effort, strength, and patience. It is unpredictable, and requires adaptability in the abstract, and the actuality of the day to day. My pursuit of balance should be tempered with both energy and rest, focus and wonder, ambition and forgiveness of failure. Beyond finding my voice as a writer, it is most important to find my balance as a man.
Only then am I free to enjoy the totality of my life, to abandon the incessant fears that wear down my spirit, that spin me off center and impact every facet of my life. Perhaps it sounds like hogwash, but perhaps it’s a breakthrough.
I’m writing again, that’s a start. In a few hours I’ll go to work, and do what needs to be done there. And in a few days I’ll wander into the woods and immerse myself in music and possibility – with no expectations other than to breath in fresh air and open my ears to the sounds of people doing something they love as much as I love to write.
I misspoke earlier. I do know who I am as a writer. I am a work in progress. Precisely as I should be.