Going There

My most interesting writing happens when I go where it’s not easy. If a piece unfolds exactly how I envisioned it, without me feeling any tension or discomfort during the process of writing, then it comes out flat. Tackling uncomfortable subjects or making difficult decisions – going to that place where I tell myself not to go, or don’t want to go, or didn’t anticipate going – makes the work sizzle and zing and feel vital.

The poet Mark Doty said that, “‘first thought is best thought’ is not necessarily true. Oftentimes, first thought is lazy thought.” I’ve found that my first instinct in work and in life is to wrap up conflict and smooth down the rough patches, yet that’s where the interesting material lurks, where feelings are revealed and breakthroughs happen. It’s non-intuitive, like Spiderman’s spidey sense. It tingles to tell him that there’s danger, but it’s only by going towards the danger that he does good. Or yoga, when breathing further into stiffness or pain opens up a deeper stretch. Or how as a teacher I learned to address even the smallest negative behavior, like a student’s tone of voice, or an eye roll. Taking a stand and embracing a certain amount of conflict was necessary to create the classroom culture I wanted.

It’s the same with our decision to have a child. I’ve been against procreation for years! I used to say that eventually a parent lets their child down in some way – every idol stands on feet of clay. I didn’t want to be responsible for another life knowing that I was ultimately fallible. I didn’t want to mess things up and make mistakes. I was scared. I still am – crazy scared – but there’s something thrilling too, to go to this place, and find that underneath the fear is an incredible feeling of tenderness, a keying in to my thoughts and emotions and life in a way I’ve never experienced before. In writing, in life, in so many things, I’m finding that it’s ultimately good to be open and exposed and go towards the distress and be there with it rather than run away, because beyond the nervousness is confidence. And that’s a beautiful thing.


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