Sunny view of the Mississippi River in St Paul, Minnesota

All Gift

My family occasionally prays down by the Mississippi River with the Nibi walkers, a group of Indigenous women and other water-tenders.  Water is life, so we plant our feet in the sand and offer thanks.  One morning, the Anishinaabe elder Sharon Day translated her prayer for us:  “Great Spirit, Gitchi Manitou, have pity on us.” At her feet was a quilt, a copper bowl of river water, a shell cupping burnt sage.  Behind her the river eddied and flowed.  “All of creation existed without us,” she explained, “and will exist after us.  We are dependent on creation.  We’re dependent on the web of life.  It is not dependent on us.”  Humans are mighty, yes, but also small and helpless, and remembering this is good.

Lately, putting the final touches on my next book, The Release: Creativity and Freedom After the Writing is Done, I’ve been pondering what it might mean to write from this posture of humility, aware of our interdependence with one another and creation.  Life is a gift.  Every breath is a gift, as are our bodies, however broken, as is the miraculously spinning planet.  We have not earned life nor have we generated it, although we are responsible for what we do with it.  Likewise with the creative impulse; it originates in some source beyond our own agency or ego.  When we write, we’re dependent on so much outside of ourselves!  Remember this is good.

When I talk about the gift of writing, I don’t mean a “special gift” like talent or genius bestowed on the lucky few.  I mean the gifts arising within every dimension of the writing process:  The books we’ve read since childhood, whispering in our subconscious; our ancestors nudging us to heal intergenerational wounds; our teachers, the word processor developers, the babysitters, our readers.  The trees that become the paper we scrawl on.  Our drive, stamina, curiosity, fearlessness, hard-earned perhaps but also sourced from some mysterious wellspring.  Of course when we create, we labor, we sweat, we exercise agency, we make something.  But even our capacity for toil is a gift.  “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,” D. H. Lawrence sang.  What about inspiration, literally meaning breathed upon?  What about Spirit? 

If humans are dependent on creation, we creators are especially so.  How might our relationship to writing, to living, change if we remembered this?  Especially if we recognized all the gifts moving in and through writing, and responded with gratitude?

I’m afraid that the insidious values of American capitalism have snaked their way into writers’ psyches.  We imagine we’ve pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps:  I wrote this!  We presume ownership:  This is MY creation!  We believe product is all and process serves product.  We assume attention and money validate creativity.

What if, instead, we begin each week sinking our toes into the sands of humility, look out over inspiration’s river flowing beside, in, and through us, and pause in gratitude?  We are dependent on the web of creation.  Remembering this is good. 

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew