Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Into A River Of Words.

Do you remember the first person who put a pencil in your hand and showed you how to write your name?

Can you recall what it felt like to watch the letters form on a blank sheet of paper?

For some of us, that moment--when our hand first touched paper with pencil or crayon--drew us into a river of words, setting off sparks that would illuminate our imagination for years.

Bursts of color still explode into light somewhere deep inside each time I make marks on paper, sculpting words into stories. But sometimes I can't help wonder where this love of words and stories comes from.

Do you think it's related to the people who first introduced us to the magic of words? (Our first storytellers? Our first teachers?)

Or are writers born with a mysterious genetic code that compels us to put down our thoughts and feelings in words? (An inner voice demanding that we search for something that we've never seen or heard before, some clue to a mystery that we're still unraveling?)

Maybe it's as simple--and as inexplicable--as this: years ago we fell in love with the magic of words, with the shapes of letters on the page and the light and shadow that sentences made beneath our hands.

Or maybe we fell in love with the way stories, constructed with care, were magically transported from the page into our imagination as pictures more real than reality.

When, I wonder, did I first become aware of this process?

Was it when my fourth grade teacher began reading The Incredible Journey aloud to our class each day after lunch, and I listened with my head on my hands, awed by the power of a story to take root in my imagination?

Or was it when I walked into my Freshman English tutorial taught by a graduate student whose love of early American writers like Melville and Hawthorne must have rubbed off on me because years later, still studying their work, I try to learn from such masters?

Or was it the afternoon when my writing seminar teacher reviewed one of my early stories in her office and told me that it didn't matter how I got the words on paper, as long as I got them on paper, and that I didn't need to rush the process?

Like guides along an uncharted journey, these and other teachers helped me find my way into this river of words.

They gave me the gift of believing in my voice--even when I couldn't hear it--and the hope that one day, if I kept searching, I might find it.

And today, when I pick up my pen, I feel the strength of the river's current because of them.

Because, in some mysterious way, this river of words flows from one heart to another through time and space.

It's a kind of miracle, isn't it?

We're all part of this river, and we can enter it each time that we sit down to write.

We can hear each other's voices, as well as the voices of writers (and teachers) from the past.

Their words keep flowing over the years, helping us stay afloat.

And, as we write and share our thoughts about writing, our words become part of this river, too, helping others stay afloat, as well.

Do you remember the first person who shared his or her love of words and stories with you? Or a teacher along your journey who helped you step into a river of words to find your voice?

Why not share your memories with Wordswimmer and pass on the gifts that they gave you so that other writers might learn from your experiences?

2 comments:

bb said...

One of my friends said that "blogging is writing," and she's right. This post is an example of a work-in-progress.
I posted it at 9 a.m. but kept tinkering with it the rest of the morning. By evening I found myself still dissatisfied with it. What I wanted to say had, somehow, even after numerous drafts, eluded me. Does this draft get to the point? I still don't know.
What I'd wanted to say was that each of us, through our writing and by sharing our ideas about writing, help each other to keep writing, to stay afloat.
Anyway... there are some times when you have to try pushing further than you thought you could go. And there are times when you'll fail. (Ok, there are lots of times when you'll fail in this business.) But, hey, that's what writing requires, I think... the desire to reach for something beyond words ... and the willingness to fail trying to say it.

Laura said...

I'm not a writer by profession or by self-ascribed identity, but I find so many of Wordswimmer's commentaries to hit home. This one in particular speaks to me not only about the process of writing but also the process of teaching. It makes me recall the wonderful early mornings more than thirty years ago when my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Barbara Loveall, would hold special before-school poetry sessions for interested students. Her favorite poet was Longfellow, so we read all of his poems aloud, then discussed their meanings.

What I learned, though, from Mrs. Loveall was not so much how to interpret a poem but how to teach with passion. So, to paraphrase Wordswimmer, I would say: We're all part of this river, and we can enter it each time we teach (or write)...