birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

White. A Blank Page, or Canvas. So Many Possibilities.

Excellent time in our Magpie flight trajectory for Resolution. Making decisions. Solving a problem. Deciding which horizon to cant toward.

I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect on what I learned from this 40-day writing bonanza—and identify a few steps or patterns, or habits, or opportunities, I’m resolving to explore.

These aspects were helpful to me: a daily deadline, a daily topic with a lot of latitude, the knowledge that Robin (our Main Bird!) was reading and perhaps others were too, the concept a community, or to use the trendy word, “cohort” was doing what I was doing, flying in a loose flock in the same slipstream.

I liked that I could make this what I wanted. I must admit I’ve barely read other folks’ entries, not from lack of desire but from wanting to have the time to sort of savor them all at once—my typical retentive way of processing things. All or nothing! I did scan enough to know I was in the company of some sharp writers. Briefly, that intimidated me and made me worry about “upping my game.” And then I let that thought go. For once I gave up my addiction to perfection and control, and decided I was going to write whatever I was going to write. I’d do the best I could for the time I had in each day, and then I let it go. The “low stakes publishing” of this all made it possible. Had it been any more legislated, public, rules-bound, technical, the worrier-procrastinator in me would have done a number and I would have given up. I give up too easily sometimes.

The daily aspect (with Sabbath breaks) seemed taskmistress-ish and confining at times, and some of my entries just felt flat because I was uninspired by the topic, or rushed, or ... But in the face of that ennui, it was good to have an obligation to churn something out. I’ve long heard of famous writers mentally chaining themselves to their writing chairs till they craft that minimum 500 words or whatever magical daily amount. This gave me a little taste of that process: not always inspirational, not even close to being genius, but good practice that hopefully burnished my writing chops and muscles just a bit.

I learned that I write best in silence, alone—and that means away from the sorry teenage lure of trying to multi-task by writing with television in the background, with toothy puppy constantly lunging at me. So, I think some of my “best” writing happened early on, when I was still in school and wrote from my classroom. If any of my daily entries sound like they’re rushed and haven’t had enough editing or craft or care and that maybe they got crammed in under the wire at 11:58 because maybe I fell asleep at my keyboard a few times (read: last night) –then maybe that’s exactly what happened. School writing usually happened around 4 or 5 p.m.—an apparent sweet spot for me.

So, I resolve to try and give my best time to writing. And to try and do it frequently. Perhaps not daily, but regularly. To slay the nit-picky editor always in my brain, about writing and everything else. To rejoice in the flow of words. And to trust that, though on any given day the outcome might seem gasping, underdeveloped, unfinished, there is always a kernel of something valuable which can lead to new adventures in wordsmithing the very next day.

It feels good to commit. It feels good to express. Even though I am in a job which is theoretically all about the expression of words and ideas, those have become circumscribed to the expectations and confinement others and me have laid down for my job. When I write for myself—and some selected audience—I honor the talent that I have. I don’t just sigh and remember my writing days of yore. I don’t just absorb others’ creation ALL THE TIME like I do when I read obsessively. Reading is swell. Reading is expanding. But reading is not creating. And I want and need to create.

I resolve to always be open to chance, blessing, serendipity. One of the random Magpie pieces I read early on exposed me to a type of therapy attempting to unify mind, body, soul. That concept so appealed to me that I purchased a book called “Addicted to Perfection” by one of the Jungian creators of this therapeutic strand. There, in the bucolic garden at my beloved Abbey, I read that when the perfection-seeking, seething snake-filled head of Medusa was cut off, out of her throat emerged one god whose name I can’t remember, and Pegasus the winged horse, symbol of creativity. What a picture! I say Amen to making more room for Pegasus in my life.

Today I’m in my student-empty classroom again, attempting to purge the detritus of 25 years of teaching to make room for something new. I turn 58 this Sunday, and I’m yearning to feel freer, lighter, and capable of tapping into new ways of re-inventing myself. As I tooled around the room feeling a bit choked by sets of books and folders of teaching helps that I don’t use regularly, yet they retain enough value that I can’t bear to let them go, I was struck by another revelation about my life. I’ve long said jokingly “I’m a control freak.” And I’ve long been something of a hoarder--, especially of books and files—there are few pieces of printed literature that don’t seem to have some now-or-later value for me or someone I know. And I know there’s an aspect of codependence in my life from living through childhood and beyond with an addicted parent.

But today, for some reason, all those aspects came together, just for a little bit, in my head, and birthed a new understanding about myself. The stuff I collect is indeed my unconscious stab at a sort of spatial control. It is a codependency of order, cataloguing, keeping, filling spaces with information and words to control the unpredictable, scary, unexpected. To try to control the uncontrollable. And since I myself am not an addict of alcohol or other drugs, but I do believe addiction is in my family’s blood—why not try compulsively to make the world a safer place for me through printed words, considering books were indeed a solace and a comfort and a great escape from life’s scary stuff from the earliest days I could read?

And that, even though books with genuine value to me are lovely things, and those carefully filled folders represent training and seminars and many hours of my own analysis, researching and lesson-crafting—well, some of them are worth keeping, but many of them have an invisible expiration date stamped upon them, and that date is today.

The same goes for the crowd of objects in my home. When I relinquish many of them, I will indeed make space for the new, the exciting, the not-yet-known. And that space may seem yawning, in a way. But perhaps it will seem anticipatory, too. In my favorite musical, “Sunday in the Park With George” by Stephen Sondheim (and James Lapine, but let’s face it—it’s all about Sondheim), the most resonant line about the Georges Seurat character, and indeed the final words of the play, say : “White. A blank page, or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities…” Every time I teach the play and a student reads those lines I have two crashing sensations inside me: “Blank canvas—yes, so exciting, but so scary! So many possibilities is maybe too many possibilities, and then we could get paralyzed, and then what?!”

But like Sondheim himself, who’s suffered numerous artistic setbacks and dead-ends, I suppose one just keeps going on to the next thing, leaving the space to let that thing be whatever shape it wants to take—not trying to predict or control before the next thing even manifests. Instead, waiting, with anticipation. With Sehnsucht, or holy longing, the topic of my Master’s thesis about C.S. Lewis’ fiction. Waiting and believing that what comes next will have value. That I have intrinsic value.

So, after today we receive no more daily writing prompts like electronic manna in our inboxes. But there’s the promise and the paradox—we each have the power and control to generate our own subjects to write about. With good resolve, may we gift ourselves the trust to listen to instinct, and to give those writings enough space and faith so that they can be what they will. And grow wings. And fly.

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