There was this boulder in my way. I kept bumping into it. I tried moving it, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried going around it, but it kept shifting positions with martial arts speed, always landing directly in my path. I cursed at it. I hit it with my pen and whacked it with my journal, but it remained steadfastly in my path, just staring at me, stone-faced, benignly indifferent to my ineffective frontal assault.
So what was the problem? Apparently, the problem was me. I was getting in my own way, blocking my own progress, stifling my own creativity. My “boulder” was my pre-conceived notion of how things ought to be. Conditions to write had to be right. The mood had to be perfect. And, of course, the inspiration had to be a towering, universal truth only I could shed light on for the rest of humanity. It never occurred to me that, perhaps, nobody cared what I thought. “Hey, that sounds great,” I could hear my friend, Bob, say, “but I’ve got bills to pay and problems of my own. Good luck with your writing. Keep in touch.”
I attempted to fix the boulder problem by myself. I checked out books on disc from the library and listened intently in the car. I wrote furiously in my notebooks, challenging myself to find the insight I must certainly have missed in my fifty-plus years of experience. Surely there was an answer, a way to express my thoughts so others could see themselves and find solace in my words. What I needed was a little help, some new direction. I discussed it with my son, and he had a suggestion for me: “Why don’t you take a creative writing course at one of the local community colleges? You insisted that I go to college to expand my mind. Maybe you should try it, too?”
Oh, what drivel comes out of the mouths of snotty, sarcastic 25-year-old brats! Go back to school? Ha! I’d rather be boiled in oil, my skin used to line some cannibal’s canoe, my bones laced together to form a Korowai’s hut. Submit myself to textbooks and teachers after all this time? Nonsense.
He was right, of course. He is wise beyond his ego. So, with apprehension, I signed up for a class at Scottsdale Community College.
On the first day, the professor, an expert in boulder demolition, immediately began eliminating the obstacles her students thought they faced. With a determination borne of sincerity, she established new conditions under which we would operate. “We’re a community of writers,” she said. “Just like in Vegas, what happens here stays here.”
Then, she put us to work. Clichés were banned, forever consigned to the geriatric home for worn-out phrases. Next came target practice. “Take the words: ‘white,’ ‘lake,’ and ‘apple’ and write a love poem. Make me smile or cry, or do both,” she said. There were readings and lectures, discussions and disagreements.
Finally, she pulled out the big gun and conducted a terrifying exercise she called a “workshop” in which every word, every paragraph, every strophe was examined, critiqued, and constructively commented on by a room full of anxious strangers.
And the big gun worked. I watched as its bullets blew holes in my boulder, the debris swept downstream on a river of awakening. As I listened and learned, reacted and responded, I realized I didn’t have to try so hard to be something that I wasn’t. I only had to be myself, writing honestly from my heart. In my efforts to sound intellectual and sophisticated, I had forgotten how to write simply, directly. “This above all to thine own self be true,” The Bard, Shakespeare, said, “and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
So I wrote, at last, a poem of unrequited love. The lyrics flowed from some crevice deep inside—a heart broken and seared in the furnace of another, the sunrise transformed from wonder to dull ache—as I laid bare an ancient wound that had been too painful to share before. I wrote the experience down in graphic detail and waited for the results of its first public review.
There was silence at first, during which I thought it a good time to shrivel and die. Then, one by one, hearts and mouths opened. “That happened to me!’ came Anne’s response, “I felt it, too!” said Carl from the back row. “This is a whole new side of you,” Tracie marveled. “Where’s it been hiding?” With that, I heaved an inaudible sigh as the last bit of my boulder crumbled to dust.
Now, without that pesky boulder in my way, I am experiencing a freedom I haven’t felt in years. Will anyone ever read anything I write? It no longer matters. Does literary fame await me? I no longer care. The truths I’ve discovered are worth more than all the accolades I could hope to accumulate. I am merely thankful for an intelligent son and appreciative of the capable professor who so skillfully aimed her Uzi with such precision, blasting that boulder to smithereens and exorcising my invisible nemesis.
I recommend taking writing courses for improvement to anyone with passion and a pen.