Whenever anyone I don’t know asks me what I do, I usually answer “retired nurse”. I then usually scurry to try to fill in the blanks of so many hours in the week. What do I do? This and that. Really. A lot of this and that. Some of it more valuable to my self or others than other things I do. I try to be a “good” person. Then remember Mary Oliver telling all of us [me], “You do not have to be good“. So then I let go of “good”. I try on “bad”. I indulge. I feel guilty. I try to be good again.
I have been retired for 16 years now, but I had a lot of skin in that game, and it meant a lot to me. Also I find the human body in its health and pathophysiology endlessly fascinating. After all, it’s our closest home; we take it every where, like an RV, only better, and weirder and full of possibilities ie pleasure and pain, life and death. etc. Oh, details.
Marge Piercy once wrote a great poem called “To Be of Use”. I loved that poem. I always loved feeling “of use”. I once met a woman at a David Whyte workshop at Asilomar. I mentioned this poem to her. I was surprised when she said didn’t like the idea of it, of being “of use”. She found other ideas like being exactly how she was more exhilarating. She was a large woman, a writer, from the South, Georgia I think, African-American, and not interested in making herself smaller in any way. I had to think about what she was saying.
Anyway, I’ve decided that now instead of saying retired nurse, I will say writer, and probably photographer. I’d like to eliminate that “probably” because I do have a photographer’s eye, by inheritance and by practice, and seeing through the camera’s lens gives me access to beauty I don’t always get from just looking with my own eye. It also gives me permission to look longer, hang out longer in the beauty, and then share it, which also gives me pleasure. I come from a family of photographers which makes it both easier and more difficult for me to claim the mantel for myself.
I don’t come by the decision of calling myself a writer lightly. I am not a published author; I have not even written a book I’ve been trying to publish. I have no pile of rejection slips to claim. No matter. I write. I write like an archaeologist digs in dirt or a spelunker lowers into caves, in search of… treasure, which looks different on the written page than skeletons or cave paintings. I write like a hungry person eats.
It is with the help of so many other writers than I have been able to arrive here. I have never met a more generous group — wise and kind… Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, Liz Gilbert, my writer sisters from Maui and soon Provence, my city college teacher Cindy Slates, and my fellow writing students. Others, too. I know. I’m sure. I’m forgetting. The list is long.
This morning I came across this poem by William S. Merwin I saved from something Liz Gilbert posted awhile ago, which spurred me to write what you just read. To claim being a writer. To probably claim being a photographer. To not worry so much about being of use. To embrace being.
“I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write”
(Advice given to Merwin by the poet John Berryman).
8 thoughts on “I’m a writer.”
Thank you Gayle. I’m looking now for Marge Percy
s poem To Be of Use. Love your blogs.
Thank you, Ellen.
Wonderful piece! I love your description of how you approach writing and how photography allows you to slow down and see and share. Thank you. 🙏
Thx, Ter! xoxo
As always you voice very familiar sympatico observations and your words resonate. You ARE A WRITER. I am impressed by your commitment to do it (most of the/my battle); your words move and attract; they shed light; they open brain and heart; they make me reflect and I feel less alone, part of a larger sea of creative people. You ARE A PHOTOGRAPHER! I love your cuttings in the sink and all the beauty you record. I think you are fuller, more beautiful and more powerful than you have ever been! And TO BE OF USE has always been one of my all time faves…I will revisit but the compunction yo be useful still pulls me. Getting a grasp on this retirement thing, my own agenda and BEING.
Thank you Melody. I still love the Mary Oliver and marge Piercy poems.. AND there’s something to look at more closely here. Why girl children got trained in this way and not boys, and how “useful” and “good” were determined by those adults who put those “have-to’s” on girl children… xoxoxo
In earlier times I grappled with calling myself an Artist. Seemed presumptuous. How to know if what I put out there was Art? Finally I had the blinding flash of the obvious that of COURSE it was Art. I may not be GOOD art, it may be HORRIBLE art, but it’s art, all right.
Based on the images of the hammock and the dear, been-there-and-still-going-places face, I conclude that you are not only a photographer, but a good and discerning photographer at that. Congratulations!
dear onewithclay, thank you for your kind words and support, one fellow artist to another.
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