That’s what I learned from the Festival of Faith and Writing last weekend. I learned a ton of things, actually, so much that it will take me quite a while to sit down and process everything. But there were certainly several themes that pervaded the entire conference, and one theme that stuck with me was the idea that in order to become a good writer, I just have to do it. I just have to sit down and put words on the page. Even if those words are crappy. Even if I don’t feel like writing. Even on the days when I really have nothing to say. Well--that’s another issue. Richard Foster had some interesting insights on the fact that there are times when one ought not to write. But more often than not, sitting down and producing words is really the first step. You can rewrite a terrible first draft but you can’t produce something that's not there.
That’s something that I’ve been mulling over lately and that has left me with some regret. I’m a fairly faithful journaler, yet I still often fail to capture important moments, like the time at the Riverwalk when we were swing dancing and a half-drunk heavily tattooed man came leering by looking for a fight and ended up in tears on the steps surrounded by us Christian college kids, giving his life over to Christ, saying over and over that he knew God was real. I’ll never forget that moment, but at the same time, it will never be as vividly clear to me as it was that night when I was sitting in my dorm room overwhelmed by the tangible reality of the Holy Spirit. The moment seemed too spiritual to confine to material language but as time passes and slowly erases the details from my mind, I wish with all my heart that I had struggled with the words and put that moment down on a page. Next time I will.
So that’s where I feel like I need to start. The past. My past. I don’t feel qualified to write about anyone else’s lives or write anything informative about any sort of subject. When I was ten years old I remember feeling completely qualified to write a parenting book. I thought it was entirely unfair that all parenting books should be written by parents--how nice would it be for parents to hear the perspective of a wise, well-informed child? I felt convinced it would be a best seller. Some of that confidence would be nice now, I think.
So I’ll write. Because writing is what I love, and also because writing is something I need. Fiction will be very nice to get into and I am just going to have to be courageous enough to jump into it and get my hands dirty and write stupid fake little pieces of dialogue between stupid fake little characters until I can wrestle them into actual real live people. My poor perfectionistic self might force me to close my eyes while typing, but I’ll do it anyway. But I will also write about my life, capturing moments as they occur and diving into the past in the best way I know how. It is going to be painful sometimes. But you’ve got to do it. Writing about the good times makes for lovely boring crap.
So back to the conference. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with direction for my life. That’s a massively large issue which will have to be unfolded bit by bit. Part of the looming confusion, though, is that I have been questioning whether sign language interpreting is what I want to do with my life. You always hear people say “Do what you love.” My brother just finished four years at IPFW and now he’s getting ready to head to New York City for grad school, majoring in piano performance--and he’s living his dream. He waffled for a little while between choosing piano and choosing a more financially secure career, because he is extremely intelligent and could easily be making a lot more money if he wanted to. But he chose to do what he loved and you can tell that he hasn’t regretted it for a second. Seeing that, and living at Bethel where so many people are ministry majors or have some sort of service as their end goal has made me question my choices. What am I really passionate about? The answer is definitely not interpreting.
I think sign language is incredible, and I love learning it, but when I think about my passions my mind goes to writing, children, and social justice. Those are the things that have always excited me. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. The Adventures of James, a curious little boy who got lost in a hollow tree trunk, was a favorite of my siblings. There was the epic musical about a wicked king and heroic prince for which I roped my brothers and sisters into countless rehearsals and a final dramatic basement presentation. There were the countless poems which I put into a “Book of 101 Poems and Songs” (later editions of the volume read “Book of 109 Poems and Songs” because I had thought of eight more). And kids. I’ve just always loved them and as the second oldest of six I’ve always had a caretaker role, which helped naturally as I took on babysitting and nannying positions. I remember finding out about abortion when I was twelve or thirteen and being outraged and asking Mom what I could do to make it stop. I had this grand idea of starting an organization to fight it or something--I thought if a thirteen year old spoke up, maybe people would listen.
But I don’t want to stop interpreting. I have always had a heart for those who are oppressed and I think that’s what initially drew me to interpreting. That’s what is also becoming my frustration, because as I think about my life as an interpreter I don’t know what I will be able to do about the oppression that I may witness. Or even if deaf people will want me to help. Or even if I will be qualified or in a position to help.
The conference (obviously) didn’t speak to sign language. But I did walk away with a clear insight that reaffirmed the direction I am heading with my life, and--ironically--confirmed my decision not to be an English major. The insight was this: in order to write well, you have to live. I don’t know that any of the speakers said those exact words, but it was the theme behind nearly every session. Plus it’s common sense. James McBride’s session was particularly encouraging. He said, “Most of what I do fails, but the difference between me and the next guy is that when I fail I just go on and forget all about it.”
I pictured my life as an English major. I would switch to English and then focus solely on writing. I would read a lot (which would be awesome) and get tons of input from incredible professors (which would be awesome) but I would be single-minded. I got this mental image of peering through a very small hole. What would I write about if my life was about writing?
But if I become a sign language major, well first of all, that’s going to be freaking hard. Not only is ASL an incredibly difficult language, but I also happen to be battling this fun little disease that’s infiltrating my whole body and attacking my immune system. So that’s cool. And then I get to graduate and work my butt off for another five years to improve my skills to be able to take my certification test. And this is all assuming that in the next couple years I somehow find a way to defeat the Lyme’s disease, because if I don’t, there’s no way I’m going to make it through interpreting. But hey. I love a challenge. And like James McBride said: “It’s okay to fail because failure teaches you success.”
So in a nutshell, my questions weren’t really answered. But I came away with peace. I’m not meant to be an English major, at least not write now. (Oh I just couldn’t resist the pun.) No, but seriously. I have a life to live. I have things to get out there and fail at. (Shut up Miss Perfectionist!) And don’t get me wrong, I am crazy excited to become an interpreter. I just, first, needed to deal with this dream of being a writer. What this conference did for me was confirm that I won’t ever stop writing. For me, writing is a lot like running. Running makes me feel incredible, I absolutely love it, and it clears my mind. I am religious about working out in the summer but during the school year it usually gets lost in the busyness--though I often think about how much I miss it and I know how much better off I would be if I could just make some time for it. Writing is the same way. I’ll always come back to it, even if it’s not my job, and maybe even more so because it’s not my job.
And that’s all for now.