5 Reasons to Write

Deena Metzger at Laurie Wagner's home in Alameda, CA Deena Metzger at Laurie Wagner's home in Alameda, CA

Reflections upon returning from Deena Metzger's writing workshop.

A week ago, I sat at the feet of a white-haired teacher, poet, author, activist and healer. Deena Metzger is not new to any of it. Her luminous long hair frames the sun-browned face of someone who spends most of her time outdoors, and although her eighty-year old body appears delicate in a large chair, she is anything but small. Just a few words from Deena reveal the power of her intellect, the size of her wisdom and the vast capacity of her heart.

Twenty of us had gathered from many states for a workshop at writer Laurie Wagner’s home in Alameda. Most had signed up for the weekend well before the election, but there we were together in the unexpected aftermath, silently waiting for Deena to speak.

She sipped her tea and explained that she had caught a cold in Standing Rock early that week, which she referred to as a sacred cold. Then she looked around the room at each of our faces.

“The fact that you are here,” she said “tells me you know something about the responsibility of being a writer—in these times.” Then she got specific.

1. Write to Remember.

We must write to remember what life is. According to Deena “Writing is a repository of essential memory. We write to keep ideas that might be prohibited sometime.” She went on to compare writing to the work of creating a seed bank. When we write to remember, we preserve seeds of experience, freedom, relationship, place, of every pulsing, vital thing.

2. Write to Restore.

“We write to remember so that we can restore,” said Deena “we will need that complexity when we start again.” I cannot say those words aloud without a throat full of sorrow and a visceral sense of urgency. I don’t know when we will have to start again, or how much we will need to rebuild, but it’s the clear that much is at stake. Friends, we must protect our complexity and our diversity! None of us can preserve them singularly. If we do not record our stories, we will not be able to restore them. Restoration can only be accomplished in community. Won’t you answer this call with me?

3. Write to Resist.

From Deena: “We write so that we will not succumb to the non-life that is moving toward us.”

As a facilitator of shared writing tables, I can attest that writing in community gives us the courage to speak up, to affirm life. In River Writing, we find and foster our voices. We break the twin tyrannies of perfectionism and isolation by allowing ourselves to be seen and heard in a safe circle in the midst of creative process. It’s a glorious mess. The more we use our voice without apology, the more we are capable of doing it. Writing, reading and listening are ways to assert our freedom. Saying the truest thing we can say is one of the most subversive things we can do. Let’s write together to encourage each other, to resist the forces that would rob us of freedom, authenticity, and vitality.

4. Write for Refuge.

Write to offer refuge. Deena asked “Can your writing be a sanctuary?” Maybe this is your specific calling as a writer. Perhaps you could provide refuge through beauty or by offering your particular witness of the wilderness. Are you gifted with gratitude like my friend Erin? Please teach us how to praise. Are you a seer, someone who knows the names of all the birds and notices the intricate shapes in leaves? Please show us what you see.

Thank God for praise poets and comedians. Where would we be without Ross Gay, Mary Oliver, and David Sedaris? How critical it is to be reminded to look up with thanks! How healing it is to double over with laughter! Refuge writers are needed more than ever. Are you reverent? Are you irreverent? You’re here just in time, we need your words.

5. Responsibility.

Last but not least, we must write to respond to our calling: to be responsible. Not because we are certain of ourselves, or sure of our readiness, or dazzled by our own words. Most of us are plenty uncertain, nevertheless we are responsible for the stories we carry, the stories only we can tell. If we don’t write them, the world will not have them.

I often tell writers at my table that we don’t know who our stories are for, which is true. Deena said it more forcefully: “Your stories are not for you, they are for your community.” She went on to acknowledge that we had come with fears and feelings of inadequacy. “And so you have these feelings,” she said “now step past them and do the work.”

Let me guess what you are thinking... some version of “who me?!” Yes, you, the one who just read a piece entitled “5 Reasons to Write.” If you’re afraid I’m speaking to you, I am. Whether we are called to write for one of the above reasons or for all of them, it’s time to step past our petty objections. Our work is needed now.

Deena was speaking directly to us, those of us staring at the blank page; those of us who could have picked up the pen sooner, but who now hold one in our trembling hands.