I keep thinking about antonyms. Private and public, easy and hard, alone and together. I’m a writer. I spend a lot of time alone, writing. Although some days it’s a lonely endeavor, when the words are flowing and I’m writing away and I finish an assignment and I know my work is good, I am so satisfied. Then I put my work out there. And it’s the weirdest thing. I’m always waiting for a reply. Perhaps every writer wonders what the world will think. Mostly I write for an online and print audience, so I get my feedback online if I get any feedback at all. Sometimes no one comments. Difficult, but nice: I can pretend no one is reading my work or that the reader loves me.
But during the last few weeks I had more intimacy with my readers. A poem I wrote was published in my daughters’ school’s weekly newsletter. I also wrote and delivered a homily about ordinary saints at our school’s church. People, I was out there. Before I spoke at the first mass I had to steal away from home and go read books and breathe deeply in and out. I knew I might cry when I read, since I kept crying when I practiced at home. Because if you are going to give a homily for maybe the only time in your life, you might as well go full throttle and talk about some of the most important things in your life: your daughter’s dyslexia and your writing career. I mean throw out your deepest wounds and your biggest triggers and see what happens.
What happened? Well, I almost cried at a brand new spot when I read the homily at the first mass. And that push into losing it forced me to take a deep breath, slow down, look at the audience and practice everything I knew about public speaking. And friends were in the audience and they threw praise at me after mass. The next two times I read it there were no tears. There was me figuring out how to speak to an audience. There was me glad I had taken on this task. There was me glad when mass three was over with and I could run home to my family and play, play, play.
There is something about throwing your real self out there in public. It’s a release and it helps other people release their own real stuff. All week long people came up to me to talk about the poem that was in the school’s parent newsletter and the homily. I got a small taste of what it means to throw myself further out there than normal. Private and public, easy and hard, alone and together. After being public, I craved alone time. It’s easy to write alone in my office. It’s hard to get up and give a speech in public. I like being alone. I strive to be together. Being together takes work. It takes me standing there hearing what you thought of my words. But they aren’t my words anymore. I finally got that thing that writers say, “Once I write it and it’s out there, those are the readers’ words now.”
What did my words mean to you? How did you make my words your words? How are you? Let’s talk together. It’s a beautiful thing, this communion that comes from writing. It was good for me to see these words weren’t about me anymore. These words that came from both me and from outside of me traveled to you and then we communicated about your life. How are you? Thanks for sharing. Private and public, easy and hard, alone and together. I write these words one last time and hear a line from a Marge Piercy poem in my head. I pull her book off of my shelf to find the exact words.
I read it and see only the whole poem will do. Here it is:
Being together is knowing
even if what we know
is that we cannot really be together
caught in the machinery
of the wrong moments of our lives.
A clear umbilicus
goes out invisibly between,
thread we spin fluid and finer than hair
but strong enough to build a bridge on.
That bridge will be there
a blacklight rainbow arching out of your skull
whenever you need
whenever you can open your eyes and want
to walk upon it.
Nobody can live on a bridge
or plant potatoes
but it is fine for coming and goings,
meetings, partings, the long views
and a real connection to someplace else
where you may be
in the crazy weathers of struggle
now and again want to be.