In my dream, I’m late for a radio interview. I’ve prepared but when I arrive at the studio I no longer have my book and notes, and instead am carrying a cast iron pan with a slice of bacon. This makes me panic. At the back of the waiting room, a lanky teenager guards the entrance to a hall which leads to the broadcasting room—soundproofed, protected—at the rear of the building.
What’s up with the bacon? Beats me, but the radio studio feels surprisingly accurate. All of us have this safe, padded space within. It’s a bit of a hassle to get there, especially since we never feel prepared or worthy. We have to get past the ego to enter. Beyond is the inner sanctum, the core, our essence, and it’s from this place our voices get broadcasted most effectively.
For years I’ve loved a line from Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, where the narrator says of her character, Janie, “She didn’t read books so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.” When memoir writers are crippled with doubt about their stories’ value, I remind them that we each contain the world and heavens boiled down to a drop, and our job as writers is to first believe in and then find the holographic nature of our stories. When writers realize that the universal resides in the particular, they gain confidence and competence. Details speak truths, more loudly even than truisms. “To turn from everything to one face,” writes Elizabeth Bowen, “is to find oneself face to face with everything.”
When the Turkish author Ohan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize in 2006, he described the writer as someone who “retires into himself”; he escapes “crowds, company, the stuff of ordinary, everyday life” to shut himself up in a room. “If he uses his secret wounds as his starting point, he is, whether he knows it or not, putting a great faith in humanity… All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble each other.” The craft of writing can transform what might otherwise be naval gazing or isolationism into a contemplative practice, one that embraces both the full range of our diversity as well as our singular unity. With fear and trembling (and a pan of bacon?), we have to navigate our way past the waiting room of our usual attachments, past our self-consciousness, back to that soundproofed space where we can tell our stories with greatest integrity. We must turn our backs on the world only to face it more completely, and from that place send out our radio waves of hope.
The last drop-in spiritual memoir session at Wisdom Ways is next Friday, December 8, at 1:30. We’ll explore this topic of the universal in the particular with memories from childhood and meditations on ordinary objects. Hope to see you there!
Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice is now available through InSpirit Bookstore. Enjoy!