Write or Die. The Blind Leading the Blind.
I just followed a blind woman into Peet’s. She was using her cane and moving slowly. I asked her if she wanted to take my arm so I could lead her to the cashier. She said no thank you, so I followed her stuttering walk past the small tables, past the merchandise display, past the sign saying “Line starts here.” Everyone in the store was watching her. The barista called out, “What can I get you?” well before she was close to the counter, as if his voice was a cord she could grab hold of to find him.
She headed for the counter two registers away and he moved over to her. She had a handful of dollar bills and after ordering, she held them out and he took what he needed. Another barista ran over to the counter where the cream and sugars were and grabbed a straw for her drink.
She started to walk away from the register, drink in hand, cane and dollars in the other. She looked like a drunk on a ship. The few people sitting at the tables watched, ready to leap forward, trying to figure out if she was headed for the door or a chair.
Her cane swung back and forth and she took a sip of her drink as she shuffled forward. A man stood up as she hit a table. “Do you want to sit here?” he asked, pulling out a chair. She nodded, slowly sat. She was not a thin woman so the sitting was a bit of a process. The man waited, watched. Everyone was serious. This was happening. We could all see and this woman could not.
I had come to Peet’s to get some iced tea and to write about how people would benefit from doing Write or Die with me. The reasons why are so obvious to me that I end up not saying them. I feel like selling Write or Die is telling people they should love themselves. I mean, duh.
But here’s the thing. I want to spend the rest of my life, or this year at least because who knows what will happen, writing and helping others to express themselves in ways they haven’t been able to before. And to do this, I need a roof over my head and food and moisturizer. I need to sell myself.
It’s so much easier just to hide. To stay small. But easier isn’t paying the bills any more. It also isn’t setting a good example for my daughter. I want her to see that anything is possible if you really go for it. I want her to see that her mother loves herself so much that she does what she wants and helps others in the process. I want her to see that life is worth it.
I want to show myself these things.
I was listening to a Radiolab podcast the other day where they were investigating why one area of East Africa has the best runners in the world. There were all sorts of ideas—maybe the spoon used to stir their meal of corn was making the difference—but then the reporter stumbled on a ritual this group has of putting adolescents, both male and female, through an unthinkably painful right of passage (I don’t want to describe it to you because it is in my head and I’ve had to carry the shocking imaginings of it around, so I want you to have to have the choice—the episode is called Cut and Run, November 1, 2013, if you are curious), and the end supposition is that these people are able to handle pain on a level others aren’t. In some ways it’s so simple: these East African runners are better runners than other people in the world because they can run through pain others can’t.
People don’t write for so many reasons, even when it is their deepest dream. There is the fear of the blank page, the fear of having nothing to say, the fear they will sound stupid, the fear others will hate them. There is also the fear of pain. It might hurt in unmanageable ways to say things long buried.
And so we stay quiet.
It’s like a quiet death. Not like. Not using your voice is a quiet death. But when you sink into the pain or the blank page or the fear, you get stronger. You can write more.
And this is why I teach Write or Die. I have lived this death through undergraduate school where I minored in creative writing, through graduate school where I majored in creative writing, through countless writing workshops. I taught writing at the college level for almost twenty years. It was like I was chipping at the frozen lake of myself with a spoon.
I had to lose everything before I was desperate enough to throw the spoon aside and grab a pickaxe. I basically went AA on myself and admitted I was powerless and needed a greater power. And the greater power was the voice I’d been carrying along my spine my whole life, the voice I’d ignored, the voice I’d thought was insane or childish or stupid. That sweet, sweet voice.
After writing my book You Don’t Look Adopted, I figured out how, with a few exercises and my personal bullshit radar, to help people get to the pickaxe place. It’s not just about finally writing the book you have been carrying inside or the poetry or the business plan or the finding the ability to speak truthfully to your spouse, it’s about finding trust and faith in the glory of you.
I can spot books and projects in people a mile away, and I am wild to help them get it out because it really matters to me. I’ve been in training for this job ever since I was a child and saw that my mother was not doing what her heart told her to do—write a book. I took getting her to write as my mission in life, and in doing so, I lost sight of my own needs. It wasn’t until she died that I was finally able to find my own voice. I wish I had had me there to push me (are you following this?) in the ways I needed to be pushed while she was still alive because I want her to see I did it! We both did it! We wrote our books, but only one of us was alive to see the bound copies.
You are so alive. You got this.
The blind woman has finished her iced coffee and her pastry, and her wild eyes are looking around. She’s talking to herself, but I can’t hear the words. I am not the only one watching her, charting the path she’ll have to make from her chair to the doors. We worry.
And then a blind man comes through the doors, his cane tapping. She hears him and stands up and they clasp hands. He leads her to the door, and she carries her cane loosely, not tapping. He’s got her. Somehow, he knows the way out, and they leave together, chatting.
In all the scenarios I had imagined of how this woman was going to get out of Peet’s, I’d never thought a blind man would come to get her. We think we need sight to move through the world. We think we are alone. We think we could be better, but we have no idea how or even why we want this.
Joseph Campbell wrote, We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known…we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.
This is what I strive to do in Write or Die: show you that you are not alone, for your voice has been there the entire time. Together we listen to you. We are in this together, this process of living, of coming fully alive. The class I teach is empowering and goofy and surprising and fun. Many people cry at least once, briefly. It’s a cleansing cry, like the tears that come as you enter a church. Oh, hello, dear heart, there you are. It’s been so long. I have been waiting for you.
I used to think Write or Die was best taught in groups for the sense of community, but I have found that one-on-one by phone or Skype works just as well, for a community of two is enough community for voice to emerge.
Please set up an appointment with me. I can do group sessions via Skype. I can travel to you if you set up a group of six or more people and give me a space to hold the session. I love this work so much, and I think you will, too.
$150 a person. It’s $75 a person when you do group sessions of four or more people via Skype.
Write or Die is a 3-hour class where you learn to find and use your voice. I’m really good at spotting what projects people carry in their guts and brain and heart. I help you unpeel yourself to find the jewels inside.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org