I had just stated that I was embarking on the arduous path of writing my first book. Notice the choice of words:
not “I am writing,”
but “I am embarking”
–beginning, venturing out, taking the leap, stepping onboard the so-called ship.
At that point, the all-pervasive leaches that somehow attach themselves to artists–or to anyone who does creative work publicly–were only a faint annoyance, beginning to collect hungrily around my unsuspecting soul.
Things such as self-doubt
fear of failure
fear of being wrong
doubt in my own relevance.
What indeed? What qualifies me to write? I was dumbfounded. His question was perfectly rational. Besides, he was someone whom I loved and deeply respected. We had been in grad school together. He was intelligent, successful and dizzyingly articulate.
I allowed his qualifications to blind me to mine.
His question, however, did nothing to determine my course. He had every right to inquire, to help ensure the very best outcome. Friends, peers and colleagues do that. It could have triggered the most stimulating mental, intellectual and spiritual work, which then could have led me to write something of profound substance.
My inner response to this question made all the difference.
I no longer recall what my answer was that night, but that is inconsequential. I allowed the question to become a reappearing ghost for years:
the one who whispered to me in the early morning, when I picked up my pen and journal, clutching a soothing cup of coffee with the other hand;
the one who shrieked at me through rejection letters for articles;
the one who snarled in derision as I lamented over missed opportunities to get the proper education,
talk with influential people,
become a member of a writing initiative, or
carve out time to cultivate my passion.
The question, “What qualifies you to write?” became something quite different from what it could have been. Somehow, the question morphed into statements of fact:
“See, nothing qualifies you to write.”
“You have nothing to say.”
“Only a select few actually have the right qualifications.”
“You are stepping into territory you’d best avoid.”
“Others are much more equipped for this journey fraught with pitfalls.”
“You aren’t clever enough, educated enough, interesting enough.”
“You are no expert, so why? Why write at all?”
Had I heard that question differently …ah, the depths it could have mined!
This question could have communicated:
“What unique perspective will guide your writing?”
“What characteristics do you bring to the table to accomplish this task?”
“Tell me about your journey to this place.”
“What have you learned that will inform your writing?”
“What experiences will find their voice through your work?”
I know that now–nearly fifteen years after the question was first posed.
Over time I have
encountered devastating pain and joyful wonder
developed deep love for vastly diverse people
sat in silence–alone with my soul, my thoughts, and with God.
exchanged dogmatism for embrace
realized that I have more questions and fewer answers
practiced my art and nurtured my passion
asked questions of those who know more than I do
moved toward loving what is
rather than demanding what isn’t
I have ventured into the deep.
What qualifies me to write?
I’m not sure I can answer that
except for deep
Thank you for the question, dear friend.
Keep asking questions of others.
For in doing so
we are driven to reflect
Your question has, in fact,
helped to produce
profoundly stimulating mental,
intellectual and spiritual work.
I have emerged
with nothing to prove
and nothing to fear.
To you, my dear reader,
(if you are still with me)
the same can be your truth.
When you require
the plaguing inner pests
that you have invited to
take up habitation
to transform into a prickly vibrancy
that nudges you onward,
you, also, will find yourself
with courage to
venture into your deep.