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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

How-to Friday: See (and write!)

In an early chapter of her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard recounts what she learned from reading a book by Marius von Senden, which tells the stories of patients blinded by birth, who recovered their sight when surgeons learned how to safely remove cataracts. What we might imagine to feel marvelous for the newly-sighted was actually, in every instance, disorienting, and in many cases, even terrifying. Patients struggled to make use of their new sense; some rejected it altogether, “continuing to go over objects with their tongues and lapsing into apathy and despair.” One patient, a fifteen-year-old boy, cried, “No, really, I can’t stand it any more; I want to be sent back to the asylum again. If things aren’t altered, I’ll tear my eyes out.”

It is never easy to be made to see.

Jesus said, "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness."

Our eyes, our sense of perception, are not simply a portal for either light or darkness. They aren't receptors of light, as if their only job were to absorb particles and transmit waves. No, our eyes are like lightbulbs, lambs, and they emit light, the light (or darkness) from within the caverns of the self. How we see tells us something about who we are

And if there's one reason why I write, it is to be made to see. I feel it every time I sit at this keyboard and let my fingers do their ceremony of dance. As soon as the self-consciousness disappears, for a fleeting moment, the meaning leaks through, and the words that puzzle together say something. They see. They are light - and sometimes darkness.

"We all have a dream of telling our stories - of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate," (Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg)

I've become a kind of advocate for writing, a salesman of sorts, having a knack now for moving conversations towards the pitch I want to inevitably make. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Write that story down. Record your prayers. Write, because the mechanics of pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, mind spliced open and light (darkness?) seeping out will teach you something about you, forcing upon you perceptions and understanding you might not have otherwise had. And there will be times you will want to run from whatever monster it is you find, whatever Frankenstein you birth in the laboratory of your laptop.

But there's no surer path to freedom than truth.

Books to recommend for learning how to write (and for the sheer pleasure of reading great writers):

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

One Writer's Beginnings, Eudora Welty

And here's another blog I'm enjoying for the reflections she makes on writing: Chatting at the Sky with Emily Freeman. (She's the one who recommended Writing Down the Bones, and I'm grateful!)

If you have books/authors that have inspired you to write, share them in the comments!