When I wrote, earlier this month, of wanting to write words that count, and to honor the rests between them, I knew that I was leading up to something. That something is an attempt – no, a need - to begin integrating various aspects of change that have been happening in my life: changes that have felt separate but are, in fact, all related, all pointing in one direction:
- The move from 30 years of life in a rural Vermont village to an urban life in a large international city.
- The loss of my mother, and all the changes that has created for me and my immediate family.
- Meeting a life goal - the publication of a book - and then thinking about what comes next.
- My creative life and my “work” life: changing priorities, balances and intersections
- My spiritual life and religious beliefs, which have undergone yet another shift.
I'm getting ready to write more about all of these, but this post is a general one, looking at the big picture.
I learned long ago that writing -- the outward form of my thinking -- is the best means I have for discovering how the various separate and confusing threads of my life actually relate to each other, and how they weave together to form a whole cloth. I’ve kept journals most of my life, because writing is the way that I make sense out of the jumble of thoughts in my head. It takes a while, and one has to be patient: the “Writing On” posts I linked to last week were written a year ago, when, in the immediate aftermath of a book project and my mother’s death, I was trying but still unable to see much farther ahead. Writing is also the way I remember: not just what happened, but who I was at a particular time. Looking back, I can sometimes also understand why.
All around me I see bloggers re-assessing their commitment to this medium, often because they feel they’re spending too much effort toward it and too little toward work that feels more “productive,” or “real” or “lasting”. I don’t see it that way. If I weren’t writing here, I’d be putting the thoughts into a journal or letters launched at indulgent friends, or middle-of-the-night conversations with my patient husband who has little need to sort out his own life this way. And yes, the blog can serve my literary life in the sense of being a place to try out ideas and to assess my commitment to subjects. But it is something in and of itself, and whether it continues to exist in this form is not nearly as important as the fact that it happens.
The blog or journal is, actually, a mirror of that movement through life that I observe in myself -- neither like the geese flying across the still photograph, nor like an individual being standing motionless while life swirls around her -- but rather the sense of myself as a moving, mutable being who exists in inner and outer worlds that are also in states of constant change. Seen in that way, the “self” doesn’t exist; it cannot be fixed. We humans spend much effort trying to deal with our discomfort about that dual movement, attempting to fix ourselves in time or trying to find ways of convincing ourselves that we won’t someday stop while time continues without us. So we write books, paint paintings, take photographs, build buildings; we have children and fixate on our belief that they represent a continuation of our own animation; we construct religions and place our hope on immortality.
I see all of this in myself. In my life’s passages I’ve toyed with, or even been obsessed with, all of these efforts to deal with questions of identity, meaning, and mortality. I still hope to write more books, and paint more paintings, to be involved with people and organizations whose work will continue after me; to build relationships; and most especially, to love. What I find, though, as I teeter on this strange place that tilts inexorably toward my own aging and eventual demise, is an emerging sense of the worth of being present not only to myself and "the moment" – that hackneyed expression – but also that an aware and acknowledged presence in the now-ness of life, in spite of the reality of aging and swiftly-moving time, is, paradoxically, the most solid gift I can give to other people. Living into this groundedness more and more fully is probably the best goal I can set for myself.