Authentic Authority

The world “author” derives, naturally, from the word “authority.” When I was a very young writer I would often turn to men and women whom I perceived as authorities to tell me if what I had written was valuable. Sometimes they would say yes, and sometimes they would say no. I did not really enjoy this experience of asking for their permission to value what I had written, but I did not feel I had yet acquired the authority to do so myself. In fact, sometimes I would write with these authorities in mind. I would sit alone at my desk and try to write what I believed would please them, would try to write what I believed would gain from them a kind of permanent approval, as if one of them had the power to bestow authority on me. As if one of them could say, “Yes, Bill. You may henceforth determine the value of your own work.”

This was a very difficult and unsatisfying way to work. Nothing I wrote in this way pleased me or – worse yet, given my desire – anyone else. When I worked in this way I often felt inadequate and dull. My writing felt like a thin imitation of something I had once known to be valuable.

But sometimes, even while working this way, I would grow tired of trying please these various authorities, and I would allow myself to slip into the dream of a story or a poem. Sometimes within this dream I would stop thinking, and stop trying, and something authentic would arrive on the doorstep of my imagination – and before I could question or examine it, I would translate it.

And there on the page was something authentic. It was as recognizable as myself. And when I showed this work to one of my chosen authorities, something strange happened: in an instant, the teacher became my student. In an instant, I was the authority, for I had authored something authentic, which, because it had come through me, was also unique to me. The teacher could not have told me how to write this; they could only acknowledge that it had been written.

For years this sudden authority intimidated me. I did not want it like this. I wanted to be given it. I wanted the security I believed would accompany my official crowning. What I did not understand is that I had been given it. Authentic work is always given to us. We either accept it and its accompanying authority, or drop it, as if something so valuable must have been accidentally stolen.

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

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