The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.
-Robert DeNiro, at the 2015 Oscars
I posted that quote to Facebook one year ago today. It’s a fitting counterbalance to all of yesterday’s well-wishes from so many of you. I am humbled to have been honored by the Presbyterian Writers Guild this year, and look forward to celebrating at this summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Next stop, Portland!
Many years ago when I was just getting started, a fellow writer asked me, “What are your aspirations for your writing?” I said, “To write and be read.” That’s still the sum of it. At that point I had a blog and had written a few poems and articles, but that was it. Even now, I look at the list of past honorees for this award and feel a generous dose of impostor syndrome, thinking about the stacks of books they have put into the world, books I have read over the course of my life and that have made me who I am. When Brené Brown talks about the vulnerability hangover, I get it.
Then again, my tech-support husband recently archived a now-defunct blog of mine and it capped out at 1,400 pages–and that didn’t include the thousands of comments, as readers, fellow bloggers, and random passersby dug into all kinds of topics about the sacred and the secular, the humorous and the heartbreaking, and all of the above at once. To write and be read, indeed.
Maybe I’ll mine that material for future projects. But perhaps not. Some writing is meant to be like a sand painting that disappears when the tide comes in. Most sermons are that way. As Annie Dillard famously said:
Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. …Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
But you know what’s the most special thing about all of this? It’s not the award itself, grateful though I am. It’s the fact that a person took the time to nominate me. Many preachers talk about writing sermons with particular people in mind. Many writers do the same, even if that person is themselves. It helps to picture someone specific who receives what you have to offer: someone who may need your words, or who simply bears witness when you say it for yourself. Someone who will nod, or challenge, or wince, or say “Thank you, I thought I was the only one.”
So thank you, BPL. The gift of your kindness overwhelms me. And if I may make a modest proposal to the selection committee: contact the other writers who were nominated and tell them a reader took the time to put into words what their writing meant to them. It will make their day, I guarantee it.