“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” — Joan Didion
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” ― Thomas Merton
The gift of writing is not as much about putting all that you want to say on paper or on a screen for the world to read, although that is a motivation of sorts. No, the gift is in the sorting out of what you encounter in the world and finding a way to articulate it better than we might have yesterday. One doesn’t place a Didion or Merton quote just ahead of one’s own thoughts, let alone both, without recognizing that measuring up becomes ridiculous. But this is how we grow.
Growth is measured against whatever it is we’re reaching for. Slowly chipping away at the French language for years now, I’ve picked up enough to know I’ve made measurable progress, but not enough that I’m not lost when a rapid-fire conversation amongst native speakers surrounds me. But at least I can tell them my name and ask where the toilettes are. Progress, and a clear indicator that more immersion is in order to grow into the language I too casually aspire to master.
The meaning in the moment is derived from accumulated experience. If our experience is limited, we might not pick up the nuance in a conversation, know the double entendre, the obscure reference or an inside joke that is derived from being out there in the world and just knowing. The trick in living is to put ourselves out there in the mix, and sort things out as best we can. Writing is active processing, documented. Hopefully edited well enough to make it interesting.
The thing is, we learn to recognize the darkness in the world, but also the light. The tenuous line between the two is where active living takes place. We become more resilient, more informed, more street-smart as we grow, and bring that to new places where we quickly discover how we measure up. The alternative to growth is stasis and atrophy. It’s more fun to grow. Plus we finally get the jokes we missed when we were someone else.