A surprising sentence came out of my mouth at a workshop last week. The leader repeated it, then turned around, flipped to a new sheet on his chart rack and wrote my sentence, phrase by phrase, each one in a different color:
of my excuses
to be who I am.
I took me a minute to even begin to understand what that meant … even though the words rolled off of my tongue quite easily. When I saw them written like that – by someone else – I remembered two other times in my life when I captured a thought before it got away. One was in 1966 and the other in 1986.
Words: 1966 – Cal State Long Beach
Someone has told me the words to use – caging me.
They are not my words –
They cannot be my thoughts.
They play in my mind – evading me …
Twisting, turning and bouncing away.
They tease me and leave me empty.
I catch one. It laughs at me
And steals my thought.
1986 – First Ave. Junior High (for Paul C.)
I put them on paper
They look back at me and laugh.
Who am I to chain a word to paper?
Lock them in my head and they want to explode.
Speak, and the words ring false.
Write them down on paper –
They look back at me and laugh.
That first “poem” (1966) bubbled up one day when I realized that I had no idea who I was or what I really thought. The second (1986), I wrote when a student challenged me to do my own assignment. We had read some free verse, and their assignment was to write a single thought that carried some emotion for them in a sentence or two. They were then to write it, phrase by phrase, so it could be read as a free verse poem.
Paul C. was frustrated and told me he couldn’t do it. After I tried a couple of times to encourage him – he turned the tables on me and asked me if I could. I had no choice but to try. I actually forgot about him in my struggle to write something honest. “Words” is what I came up with – and the one he brought me started “I have no power…”
So, back to excuses.
The workshop leader explained that human beings come up with all sorts of excuses for the things we do – or don’t do, say – or don’t say, think – or don’t think. That’s just our nature and is probably linked in some way to our survival. In this case, however, he was talking about the excuses that we tell ourselves – or others – about why we don’t do the things that we say we want to do. He explained that all excuses fall generally into four broad, overlapping categories:
Best Friend: This is the excuse you carry around all the time and have it ready to use as needed.
Not My Fault: This one is self explanatory….
Perfect Place: This is used to explain that you will definitely do something when everything is in order and the time is right ….
The Dabbler is the person who moves from this to that to the other thing and never reaches any particular goal.
So what are the excuses that I hold on to so tightly … and what would it mean if I really were to be able to let go of them?
I have many excuses that fit into each of the above categories … but when I think about writing, I’m not sure if writing IS the “best friend” excuse I use to avoid living …. or do I keep creating new excuses, in each of the four categories, that help me avoid focusing on any particular writing goal? Or both?
I was 20 years old in 1966 and 40 years old in 1996. I now realize that my frustration with writing as a student was one of the main reasons for my success as a teacher (at least with some kids.) I do know that many students came into my classes saying that they “hated” to write … and left at least feeling comfortable expressing themselves on paper. Some even left loving to write and have continued to this day.
So now … Is writing the “best friend” excuse that I hide behind … or do my other excuses give me permission to keep dabbling and never really committing to any particular project. Or does it matter?
At least I have some confidence in my writing now ….but I still like the fact that this is a “secret” blog … 🙂