We may be coaxed by popular sentiment to think we should be fearless.
Granted, it would probably be fun to be eternally pursuing adventure, but I have yet to experience a life devoid of fear, and I doubt anyone who is being truthful will be able to attest that they haven’t ever been scared.
My thoughts lately haven’t turned to feats of daring — skydiving, mountain climbing, endurance sports — but to the accomplishments that can happen through the power of our brains.
Maybe this wouldn’t be as big of a fear had I not lived with a relative who had dementia for three years, but I’d be lying if I told you I don’t worry about losing the ability to keep up, professionally and in life in general, with others. Are there tau proteins tangling themselves away right now deep in my gray matter, ready to steal words, which have always been my safe place?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know one key to keeping up is keeping my brain healthy. And that (surprise!) loops back around to continuing to write.
Why does writing regularly matter?
I’ve been blogging every Sunday for 12 years now, missing maybe five or six Sundays in that time. Scott Ginsberg convinced me early on to “make a date with the page” rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. He was right.
Some Sundays, I wonder why I do this and I find myself at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night dashing off a quick blog. I won’t lie. Being a part of the Five Minute Friday community has helped. I can always say, “I can take five minutes and write to this week’s prompt.” That still gives me the a) time on the page b) community with other writers and c) relief that I didn’t break my streak of Sundays.
Ultimately, one reason I write is that I am surrounded by teachers (my readers).
Why do readers matter?
Another thing I do most Sundays is help produce the #NYTReadalong, a livestream where the host “reads” the New York Times (usually, although sometimes we feature a different paper) and the readalong community chats about the events of the day. We also usually have a special guest.
Today’s guest was Tina Kelley, a former New York Times metro reporter who is also an author and a poet.
When today’s host, Neil Parekh, was talking with Tina about the poem that had appeared in the paper this week, he talked about how the readalong’s creator, Sree Sreenivasan, doesn’t believe that a poem should be read “cold,” since whoever is doing the reading couldn’t possibly know what the author intended.
Tina said something in response to Neil that surprised me (because for several years now, I’ve sat here in my producer’s seat and thought, “yeah — cold is probably a bad idea but we do it anyway and it’s still good to give the poem exposure). She said this:
I disagree. I think that anytime someone reads my poems out loud, I learn something from the reading. In our poetry workshop, the poet reads it then another person reads it and you gain some insights from what words need fixing, what you might have said that you didn’t intend to say that comes through in the reading. So I learn a lot when other people read my poems. (The part I’m talking about starts shortly after this clip begins playing.)
At that moment, a small light bulb went off above my head (figuratively).
I often feel that I’m just word vomiting onto the screen (and, to be perfectly honest, one of the other references Tina made was to Sturgeon’s Law, which asserts that at least 90% of everything — including pieces of writing — is “crap.” (Tina said 96%, the resource I consulted said 90% — the point is that “most” of what we do is possibly “crap.”)).
I’ve taken enough editing training to know that our first draft of most pieces of writing needs to be cut significantly to get to the heart of the words. I know how fraught with imperfection self-editing is (believe me — I know this one ALL TOO WELL).
Yet — what if I wrote nothing? What if my words just wedged themselves deep into my brain crevices and I never deployed them out into the world? My brain would be worse off, and I wouldn’t have the benefit of learning from everyone who is kind enough to read what I have to say.
About lifelong learning
Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
I agree with both sentiments. I’m not sure if learning and writing are going to keep me young, but I’m sure it can’t hurt.
There may be new lessons in the 10% of my writing that isn’t crap, but I won’t know unless I keep being open to the lessons people may teach me when they read what I have to say.
I could have thrown together a graphic of the Einstein or Ford quotes in Canva, but I found the image below, and it fills the bill better, in my opinion.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.