Few things are as obnoxious and boring as actors talking about acting or writers writing about writing, especially when they go on at length about their challenges. Oh, and college professors: they might be even more annoying as they cry foul on their terrible load of two or three courses a semester and the blood, sweat, and tears associated with planning sabbatical. (I have written previously about the embarrassment of complaining clergy, so know that I am fully aware of my guilt by association with that whining cohort).
Don’t get me wrong – I am not heartless. Of course these professions have challenges, and those who do them well deserve our respect for contributions that benefit the rest of us. It is just that they are professions and lifestyles growing luscious lawns of green grass on the other side for scads of people with less freedom and less opportunity for recognition and satisfaction.
As an adjunct professor of religion who was working full time at another extremely demanding job, I was regularly bewildered by the complaints I overheard in the faculty lounge. As a writer who feels unfettered gratitude at the opportunity late in life to spend time writing and to then actually be published, I feel embarrassed by the caterwauling of writers I read.
So please, as I take a few paragraphs to describe challenges I have been working through as a writer these past few months, know that it is not a complaint but simply dropping some breadcrumbs on my way to a point.
As readers of “The Rant” know, my place in the world has changed, literally. Going back to August when it became clear a move would take place, it has been eight months of transition with many more months ahead until that transition evens out into being at home in one place. It also came much faster and more abruptly than I imagined during those weeks in August when it was determined that a move needed to happen sometime “in the next year or two.” Unleashing change (which is actually always unleashed anyway) rips the veneer off our pretense of control.
Writing seems as though it should be portable – it can be done anywhere there is pencil and paper, journal and ink, electricity and computer. Not so, at least not for me I am discovering.
A place is required.
That place can be portable, and has become so for me – a particular chair as it turns out. It may be a space, as in work area or office. Some writers create a windowless and barren space so as not to be distracted, while others build a nest stuffed with the paraphernalia of love, life, and memory. When the place changes or is taken away, weaving thoughts and images into words becomes as unmanageable as drinking an open cup of coffee in an old truck on a bumpy road. It can be done but it becomes a fraught process.
In the past few months I have written some poetry I feel good about, and a few sermons and rants that almost hit the mark, but no prose. I have the sense that something is waiting for me when I get back home but I won’t know what it is until then.
I am not there yet, even though I am in the place I am to be living. It isn’t home yet and my chair is still coming to terms with the space surrounding it. In fact, I just got my chair back after two months without it, and it is only in the past few days of sitting in it again while writing that I came to realize the chair is my place. I thought it was the room and the view where I had been writing, but it is actually being held in the arms of this doggone chair.
Now what all this has to do with actors, professors, clergy, nurses, gas station attendants, stay home moms or dads, and short order cooks, is the small spiritual truth embedded in it.
One of the floorboards of spiritual practice is place. The place we go to meet ourselves again and find peace in the midst of the whirlwind is fundamental. It may be a static spot – a temple, mosque, pew – or it may be a routine process in a familiar place like walking or running. A place becomes sacred when it is set aside, which is what sacred means literally: to set aside.
A place becomes sacred when we set it aside as special and imbue it with experiences and meaning. It becomes the place we can go to get what we are looking for, and also to be surprised by what we needed that we didn’t know we needed. “The Steam Room Diaries” is novel about sacred space and what happens when we discover it and then open ourselves to what is waiting for us there. Having written the novel, it seems I should have had greater clarity about my sacred place all along. In my defense, change is a discombobulating fog that reduces visibility.
My apologies for picking on you actors, professors, and writers out there – we’re just such easy targets. Thanks.