A few weeks ago, I briefly considered not writing.
After years of graduate school, I longed for the normalcy of a 9-5. Giving up my writing seemed to be a good, adult decision. I could just pack away my talent, get a ‘real’ job, get married, have some babies, call it a life.
In the midst of this decision, I received an assignment to do a profile of an accomplished poet. Spending the day with a poet means a lot of laughter, contemplative moments, wisdom wrapped in prettily arranged words. We sat in her sunlit home and talked about the sensation of writing with a dull pencil, and how to operate in the world without a cell phone. We traded the names of black women writers whose work we cut our teeth on. I spent the whole day thinking about Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor and Zora Neale Hurston. I dreamt in stanzas. I stayed silent in a room full of important poets and learned about how to live my life.
Zora Neale Hurston
In the quietness of that day, I realized that i would always be a writer. I saw myself in the older women who insisted upon writing with pen and paper, who teach others through their words, whose lives are, in themselves, forms of art. I thought about the oddity of being offered paid writing assignments without pitches. I thought about how I stood next to influential poets at a time when I was ready to stop writing altogether. I thought about how I became a shell of myself when i wasn’t creating new essays.
The Last Poets
I encountered a reflection of myself in Lindy Walker, a fictional character in Bebe Moore Campbell’s Singing in the Comeback Choir. She’s an elderly, talented jazz singer who stopped singing. When we meet her, she’s drinking and smoking too much. She stopped dyeing her hair. She almost accidentally burns down her home. Lindy is a reflection of her street, which has fallen into disrepair.
When Lindy starts singing again, she and the community begin to blossom.
Her niece tells her:
“I’ve missed [you]. It wasn’t just your singing. It was the way you had of being in this world when you were singing…I remember when you’d walk around the house riffing and scatting, pulling things out of the air and making music out of them. Music wasn’t just your job, it was who you were, what you had to give” (260-1).
The most dangerous artist is the one who abandons her gift. When we stop painting, writing, or making music, we deny ourselves joy. We deny the world our gifts. Our art is a necessary luxury. Our art is a conversation between ourselves and God about the world we see.
The only thing I know for sure is that God put me on this earth to write. It is all I have to offer to Him, to myself, to the world. And when I’m not writing, reading or thinking, I’m not fulfilling my purpose–I’m just taking up space. When I’m not writing, I become a burden to those around me because my friends and family members have to spend extra energy showing me that my art is important.
I want to create dangerous art that transforms the world. But I don’t want to be a danger to myself and others by not writing.
For better or worse, I’m married to the pen.