Careful Where You Point That Thing


I was reading the New York Times the other morning, which can be a dodgy experience for me. It’s a giant paper with lots of different kinds of articles to choose from, and as usual I started on the front page where I read about a Saudi Prince and a murdered journalist. This was a very unhappy story, so I moved on to an article about voter suppression in Georgia, which started pissing me off, so I moved on to a piece about the decline of religious and spiritual language in everyday speech.

I didn’t finish this one either, but that’s only because the author, the son of a southern mega church pastor, described moving to New York where to his surprise he was often asked to define words like “grace” and “gospel” and “saved.” This reminded me of something I’ve encountered in my writing and teaching and I had to stop reading just so I could think about it. That thinking eventually led me to remember a young man I’d met at recent conference who said the hard part of writing was that “no one understood him.” It had gnawed at me a little that I hadn’t found a better way to talk to him about this problem at the time, but now I was seeing his problem differently and I felt like I had it, and though I’d probably never see him again there would always be another with this same challenge and maybe now I could help that one.

All that because of one paragraph in a half-read article. I have to be mindful of where I point my attention. The world’s a stimulating place, and every story I read, show I watch, song I hear, or person I talk to sends my mind somewhere. I’m never, ever passive. Even when meditating my mind starts jumping around and I have to tell it, “Not now. Just wait.” I like my bouncy mind; I write in part because I enjoy seeing where my thoughts will go. Unless, of course, I start in the wrong place, pointing in the wrong direction, and soon find myself in some miserable mental neighborhood filled with the empty storefronts of failure and the barking dogs of anger and the chain link fences of poverty. “How the hell did I get here?” I wonder.

This is why I take writing and storytelling so seriously. The geography of the mind is infinitely large and infinitely varied, and there are no boundaries to its darkest lands other than the despair and anxiety and rage they provoke – which, if I am traveling fast are often not enough warning for me to turn back. The best stories, after all, move quickly and surprise the reader. When someone reads what I’ve written, they’ve given me their attention, a portal to heaven and hell alike. I know where I want to go, and I hope the stories I tell bring me some company when I get there.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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