I wonder how much of what’s on paper is real. I wonder how much of poetry comes from life lived.
A few months ago, I started reading a book of poetry* aloud. I’ve carried it around town and read under the tree, in the park, by the fountain. I carry a blue pen with me, slight weight, fine black ink, the kind of pen that was made to tell stories rather than sign papers, I like to think. The kind of pen that’s meant to be enjoyed rather than kept in a box on a desk for special occasions, but also the kind of pen I’d be sad to lose, so I left it at home once, and those pages are easy to find in my journal because they don’t look like the other pages. I haven’t left it at home since.
I carry a blue pen with me and I annotate, underline, fold down page corners, record dates. I read aloud and sometimes I reread, sometimes I stop because the words have become the sound of my voice and I need to go back to the words. I read aloud and sometimes there are people around and sometimes I stop just to take it all in.
There’s something about the words that makes me braver than I am, that reminds me that I am all I have, that assures me that when everything falls apart again, there’s a way to rebuild.
I can still see the look in your eyes I can’t read, hear the chorus that told me what I already knew and didn’t want to know.
Sometimes I wonder if you’re as scared as I am.
And I laugh at myself for wondering because you’re not. You never were. I wonder if that’s how I seem, too, and I wonder if that’s why I can’t read that look in your eyes.
Today I thought that maybe I write for the same reasons that I practice yoga. It’s a way of accessing another part of the brain, another part of the body. Perhaps, if you’ll allow me the liberty, another part of the soul.
I was introduced to yoga over ten years ago and have maintained a regular practice since the beginning. It has evolved over time, naturally, and I have written at length on this blog about my experiences with yoga. It tends to come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I practice both yoga and meditation, light incense, look for the spiritual. By this I mean, yoga is a way of accessing, through the body and breath, a different outlook on the world. It is a way of reaching, physically, to parts of my body that I might not fully notice otherwise; it is a way of reaching, spiritually, towards both energy and stillness, towards forces in the universe I cannot explain.
Towards forces in the universe I don’t need to explain.
Maybe I write because writing is a way of expressing what lives in the body, the sensations of being alive on this planet and looking up at the sky. Writing is a way to capture the pulse of energy that sweeps you away when you let it it. Writing brings sensation back to a foundation, back to a centre where it can be grasped, felt, explored.
I write because I am feeling and I practice yoga in order to feel.
Sometimes, and certainly the case in much of my journal writing, I don’t understand what I feel until I write it down. Moving from sensation to articulation requires a conscious slowing down, letting go, a certain objectivity that reduces an emotional component, or at least requires me to detach from it just enough to inquire into it, unpack it. This is what I mean when I say, as I have known to be true for a long time, I think better on paper.
Yoga moves the sensation through the body and begins an exploration of how the body is connected, constructed, understood. I was first fascinated, all those years ago, with the shapes I could create with a breath. Perhaps years of dance training facilitated the ease with which I found my body in a new form, or perhaps innately understanding the possibility of movement in the body meant that I have always approached yoga with curiosity. Let’s see where I am in this body today. And then let go of the body and move with the breath.
Or maybe I’m trying too hard in linking these two aspects of myself together. I have had profound experiences in both contexts, that of doing yoga and that of writing. I do not aim here to explain what those experiences were or where they came from, but rather to make the bold claim that they existed. There are things in the universe we cannot explain, and the statement of such is what makes the claim true.
What is true, however, is malleable. There are days when the body and mind flow as a unit more smoothly than on other days. There are days where we walk easily, calmly, gently though the world. There are days when we are literally and figuratively bent out of shape, and we may or may not know why, or days when someone else knows something is wrong even before we know it.
I cannot write without being vulnerable enough to look inside myself and there is always the threat, sometimes realized, of finding something I don’t like. I cannot practice yoga without the willingness to sometimes feel a little foolish, or to be humbled by what my body is and is not capable of. There’s an element of letting go of control in both contexts and a requirement for honesty, authenticity, sincerity that strips away whatever masks I happen to be wearing. It’s a question of how much I am willing to give in that moment, and the question is answered moment after moment.
Maybe yoga is the physical manifestation of what I look for in writing, or maybe writing is the intellectual element of synchronizing the breath and the body. That they come together in this way is what drives the continued exploration. The satisfaction, the sensation of which lives somewhere beneath the sternum and is captured by clauses and phrases, is in the journey itself.
As for the universe, the magnificence of which is unexplained as far as I am concerned, there is no answer within reach because there is no answer to find.
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Connor
I was nine years old when I started keeping a journal, the first of many I received as a birthday gift. It was pink with some sort of design, possibly ballet slippers. It came in a little pink box with a clear plastic lid and keys that I kept conveniently tied around the lock.
I don’t remember why I started to write, but I remember sitting at the kitchen table one morning, looking over at my baby brother who was watching a children’s television show that I did not like. “Can I write that he’s watching a dumb show?” I asked my mum. “It’s your diary,” she said. “You can write whatever you want.”
That’s what I remember when people ask how long I’ve kept a journal. A long time.
I’ve recently spoken with a couple of people who look back on old writing. They write so they can reread later, verify their memories, reflect on situations and decisions, and understand who they are now. I’ve always just thought I’d burn everything one day.
When I think about reading old journals, my insides turn cold. My writing tells stories and relays events that I do not like to think about. I’ve been places I don’t want to revisit, and certainly not alone. My younger self needed to be held, needed to be shaken awake, needed to connect the dots in the writing on the wall, needed to learn, to grow, to love. The person I am now, as is the case with all of us, is a product experiences, responses to challenges, choices made. My writing on this blog tells me that I’m very consistent in many ways, but my personal writing is not nearly so tidy. Our public and private lives are often very different in that way. Is it enough to understand what is now without looking back to see how I arrived here?
And yet, there is a box of two decades of journals in my parents’ basement. Why did I once take the time to sort them, a harder task than it sounds because I didn’t always write the date when I was young? Why have I packed them into suitcases over summer holidays to place in that box? What am I saving them for? I’ve asked myself that question many times and I don’t know the answer. I’m saving them. The end.
I think better on paper. I understood what that meant to me long before I knew anything about cognitive processing, neural pathways, or emotional reactivity. I need to write like some people need a cigarette, and I get fidgety when I feel this way. I carry my journal around during difficult times and sometimes it’s enough to jot a note about what I want to chronicle (that’s usually the word I use) later on. It literally takes the edge off.
Sometimes I write with the intention of remembering, of preserving for as long as I can. But sometimes writing gives me permission to let go, to free up space in working memory so I can focus on something else. If it’s written down, I needn’t actively remember.
Writing is the only pursuit that I do not compromise, no matter how exhausting the day. At the minimum, it’s three things I’m grateful for. And I am grateful, every day, for knowing that there are things to be grateful for.
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place