I am a writer (a vocational declaration of independence)
Writing is therapy. For me anyway. I'm not saying writing has replaced my therapy or even that it compliments therapy. In some ways writing has been more therapeutic than my actual therapy (that's mainly because I had a therapist with a bad yawning habit which always made me want to ask, "is my trauma boring you? I can spice it up a little if that would help you.").
I daresay writing has done more for me than religion has been able to do over the last few years. Well that's not totally right. What I'm trying to say is writing has been my most sacred practice and my most direct line to the divine because writing helps me access my essence. Clearer still, writing has saved me, which is a very spiritual way of saying writing has been my therapy.
Poetry gave me words for my grief after a string of painful losses. Poetry allowed me to descend into the well of my being and draw some of my rawest emotions and deepest truths. Unconstrained by prose's unbending structures or grammar's arbitrary rules, poetry liberated me from the confinement of conventional language to learn to speak in art, which I believe is the heart's love language. Poetry distilled my being and allowed me to drink from my own well.
Songwriting allowed me to be attuned to the melodies and laments my soul longed to sing. I now know what it is like to serenade one's self and to truly play for an audience of one. I have clung to my guitar like the old man in Picasso's famous painting. Which is to say, my guitar has held me as much as I have held it. Or as I like to say, I am in a longterm relationship with my guitar. Twenty years ago as a sophomore in college I picked up the guitar to learn how to play the hot new Christian worship song "Lord I Lift Your Name on High." Over twenty years later, I am finally learning how to worship in the only acceptable way a human can worship a deity: broken adoration.
Fiction has been like my imaginary friend playing with me when my closest friends couldn't for social distancing reasons pandemic related and otherwise. Through writing beautifully flawed characters I discovered my own character and flawed beauty. I found my writing voice and therefore found my voice voice. I stumbled onto truths that could only be digested in story and learned to appreciate the ways conflict shapes our narratives whether we like it or not.
Memoir has allowed me to time travel into the past, to revisit long forgotten childhood experiences, sit with my traumatized and hilarious inner child, and learn how to get unstuck in time by writing new chapters. Writing about my past has given me a clear vocational direction for my future. Writing has revealed who I am.
Writing is more than a hobby for me. It's my vocation. It's what I can't not do. It's what gets me up out of bed every day. It's what sustains me throughout the day and it's what occupies my mind in the evenings (I am writing this at 12:53 in the morning).
For many years I embraced ministry as my vocational path like my parents before me. I was groomed to be in ministry and I picked up on ministry skills by osmosis from visiting patients in the hospital with my dad as a kid, dropping off presents to kids with incarcerated loved ones on the other side of the tracks, or meeting strangers at the police station at all hours of the night to help them find some food or shelter. But I also learned other, less helpful behaviors from growing up in a ministry household, like suppressing emotions and needs to focus exclusively on other people (codependent much?), hiding brokenness to appear good, and internalizing the message I had to be perfect to be loved.
After burning out in ministry after forty years, I've come to the conclusion that being a minister, in the form I once knew it, no longer fits who I am. Like David trying to wear Saul's armor, I am shedding the dead weight imposed upon me as a kid, to pursue the path that makes my soul sing.
I can hear the rebuttal in my head from people saying, "writing and ministry aren't mutually exclusive." I did write while I was in ministry and many people have a writing ministry. Even my own therapist seems to think getting back into ministry is a desired outcome for my healing journey. To that I can only say I'm in no rush. It may be possible that my writing may minister to people, but I have no desire to be a ministry writer. In fact, I think ministry is one of the most dishonest professions there is (that's a blog post for another time); it certainly is one of the most dangerous for me. Again, I'm only speaking for myself given my history.
Speaking of speaking, I'm not too interesting in being a speaker anymore either. Speaking triggered my performance anxiety. I almost had to dissociate to do it. Develop a persona. Be a more perky, polished version of me. Writing doesn't require that same sacrifice or disconnection with my self. Writing encourages me to be my authentic self. Another way of saying it is, speaking and ministry led me outside and away from myself, while writing takes me inward, deeper into myself. Writing helps me live with integrity, more fully integrated and aligned with my core, in ways speaking and ministry never could.
This doesn't mean writing will be my paid profession (I know I have about as much chance "making it" as a writer as someone who has visions of joining the circus), but this means writing will be my purpose no matter what jobs I will hold. Over the last two years, I've survived on the gig economy, I've worked in higher Ed, and I currently work for a therapy based for-profit company with a mission to bring healing to the world (shoutout to therapy). Over this same period of time, I've written a poetry book, over twenty songs, a few fiction novels, and a couple memoirs about the humor and horror of growing up Christian (when I turned 40 I set a goal to write one book a year for the next ten years. I've written 12 books in the last five, 9 during the pandemic.)
I've always been jealous of people who can identify themselves by one thing they do. I have family and friends who fall clearly into vocational categories like doctor, lawyer, counselor, entrepreneur. They have one vocational lighthouse that guides them through the chaos and doubt and uncertainty of life. After a turbulent time of soul seeking and recovery, I can finally say I know what I'm here on this earth to do, but more importantly, I know who I am.
I am a writer.