This is how I know I’m a writer: everything I think is a visualized line in a poem or a paragraph. I can see black letters on white paper in the movie theatre of my brain – telling a story. Making a point. Having an opinion. Being brave. Or funny. Or not making any sense at all. But it’s still words in my movie theatre.
It’s the year two thousand and seventeen. Writing it feels as weird as saying it out loud. This a year writers wrote about and described in futuristic, flying-cars, living-in-space kinda ways. It’s funny how it seems like our futures were always up-up-and-away…like that’s all we are ever able to create for ourselves. Some dystopian escape route from the planet we knew then we’d hurt badly now…yet even then we couldn’t come up with a collect way to solve the hurting. At least…that’s one way of understanding all the information.
It’s Sunday, January 1, 2017, and I just finished reading Still Life with Tornado, a brilliant young adult novel by my favourite YA writer, A.S.King. The first thing I completed as an artist this first day of a new year was reading her book. Her words made my chest tighten and my heart shrink a little before it burst and tears slid down my cheek, hot and salty. I had to blow my nose. There was black make-up mixed in my clear snot (leftovers from last night’s New Year’s Eve celebration).
I know I’m a writer because a whole new year begins and all I want to do is read and write. All I want to do is give myself time to pay attention and write.
The year two thousand and sixteen was (she watches the curser blink as she thinks about what word best describes the experience of the year…) floating. It floated by like a mess of seaweed in the ocean – sometimes calmly, at one with the current, others, jumbled and whipped by storms…losing pieces.
I know I’m a writer because even though I am still feeling the joy of having a new book of poetry published, I’m writing newer poetry and feeling different about the poetry in the book. Like it’s impossible to stay at one with the words on the published pages because they are still, pressed, immovable…and I cannot stop moving. And I want to write about this phenomenon.
I know I am a writer because I feel phenomenally overwhelmed so much of the time – and I want to write about how I feel. I feel like my feelings are inflamed. There’s no pill or potion or lotion or food that calm this burning and swelling – except the words. Except to write the heat out.
I know I am a writer because I am addicted to reading. I stare at, pet and/or hold to my chest so many books every day. My home is filled with books. Filled with letters on pages. I want to write all.the.time. Even when I’m not writing. This is not writer’s block. I don’t believe in that. Writers read. Writers write. There is no blocking. There is only not writing or not reading. The words are there. Yours or someone else’s. There is only diving in or standing at the edge and toe-tapping a pool full of letters waiting for you to fish them out.
I know I am a writer because I want to tell other writers how much I adore their work. Before I read Still Life with Tornado, I read The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom. I’ve had this book for a year, and it was my time to read it over these holidays. I read it in three days. I read Tornado in three days. I would have finished both in less than that if I didn’t sleep. I didn’t want to put these stories down. Each of them affected me in important ways. Each of them slapped my movie theatre into focus. Focus. On purpose.
I met A.S.King in 2014 in New York City at a writers’ conference (Backspace). Someone took two photos of us with my cell phone. In both photos I look like my face is melting off. That’s basically how I felt – meeting a writer who makes the writer in me both wail and woohoo. I was able to tell her how incredible I think she and her words are, and I tell her after I read each of her books. Because that’s what writers do – they tell each other when they love the words. We have to. We must. Not for any payback or acknowledgement, but for the words. For the stories. For the legacy.
I met Mitch Albom first when I was in grade 11, and then pretty consistently each time he published a new book and came to Chapters in Devonshire Mall to do a signing. We’ve talked on the phone. I wrote him a letter each new year consistently for many years. Then I stopped a few years ago. I will write him a letter this year. Because I’m a writer, and I need to tell him why I loved Presto. I need to thank him.
In 2016, amongst all the writing, the editing, the book tour prep, the marketing, the organizing, the book launch, the social media onslaught, the traveling…if you can believe that it, my purpose got fuzzy. In the midst of all the really hard work and celebrating, my body forgot about the purpose and went into a different…place. A separated existence. I was both writer and PR manager. Personal assistant and social worker. Mother and wife. Friend and foe. I became a writer unhooked from her movie theatre. I became a writer in the plush, red velvet seat watching…with small visits to the projection booth to change reels.
I know I’m a writer because I felt my body separating and I couldn’t do anything about it until the tour was over, until the curtain dropped and I left the theatre. I had to give my self some time to trust that the words would still be there. I had to re-find the script.
It’s all very metaphorical, I know, but I don’t know how else to explain it. I was me but I was not me. Each step onto the train or gentle push on the gas accelerator brought me into existential clouds. A storm brewed. I lost and gained my confidence in tumultuous wind battles. I wanted to quit. I wanted to hide. I wanted to rip my guts out and buy new ones made of steel. I wanted to yell in people’s faces. I wanted to fall on my knees and beg. I felt desperate for attention. I had expectations that were so ignored I made up stories about failure. I made new definitions of success with each let-down so I could keep my head up.
I experienced heart burn. Literally. I have it now as I write about how it felt to be on tour with this new book. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. Because writers don’t stop. That’d be like holding my breath, and I can only do that for so long. I’ll admit I chose a ‘stop’ date for my book tour so I could stop holding my breath. I have three readings booked so far in 2017 that I could have continued on as part of my book tour, but I needed to let the title go. I needed to step away from the banner of ‘book tour’ because I was fuzzy.
There were moments over that last year when I was in the glory. When I was at one with my body. When I was living my purpose…but then, the moments passed because there were other moments to fill. There were tweets and instagrams, blogs and phone calls, schedules and sleeping arrangements. There were small, cracking windows of reflection and deep inhalation…attempts at reconnecting my body with my…purpose. But they were too fast.
I wanted to give up on being a poet.
It was all self-inflicted.
It was all perfect.
Then I had an astral travel experience (thank you Tracey!). It was very real. Very Dr. Strange, but not strange at all. And my spirit, soul, energy…you can choose the word…it finally did a full disconnect….I left and went to an old story…found a scene and the characters, found my starring role as 8-year-old me – and I found the letters. I saw the words. The movie theatre in my brain clicked on again, and I was the projectionist, and the screenwriter. And the poet and the novelist too. Like a portal being sucked shut with a heavy door, my energy flung back into my body, and I was me. Projectionist holding blank film in her hands, staring at a beautiful white screen waiting for colour.
It’s still waiting for colour, but I’m not afraid of the flickering screen bright with soft light. I’m looking at all the glory and writing it out.
I know I’m a writer because a ‘new year’ hits me hard, and I must reflect. But this happens so many times over a year, that something new starts and something old ends many, many times. I get fuzzy…and I have learned how to write through it. Or read through it when my movie theatre needs renovations.
I know I’m a writer because writing brings me joy. It’s an extension of a light I feel spinning in place where my ribs meet. Maybe this is where the letters come from…that zip up to my brain and make it to my movie theatre.
I know I’m a writer because writing helps me express my humanity. And in 2016, I felt my humanity so very deeply…all the flavours…new and old, bitter and poisonous, sugary and sweet.
Thank you Mitch. Thank you A.S. King. Thank you writers of the world.
I’m going to write today, and every day. I’m going to read today, and every day. I’m redefining and reassessing. I’m wearing a This Is My Purpose badge right here on my sleeve beside my heart.