For five years, I didn’t write.
I thought I had better things to do than focus on the creative process, and by the world’s standards, I guess I did: graduating, moving across the country, grieving the loss of a parent, getting married, and settling into life as a wife. Figuring myself out. Figuring the world out. You know, growing up.Mostly, I felt I needed to get my act together before I could spend precious margin time on a hobby. After all, how could my voice shape the world before the world had shaped me? My writing professors had told me most renowned authors didn’t publish their great works until the second half of their lives, anyway.
Let life happen to you, they said, then you’ll have something to write about. Then you’ll know something worth telling. So I resigned from the art that had lived inside me for so long, tucking away the pen and story for a more buttoned-up season. Onward and upward to taxes and resumes and craft cocktails, I thought.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of jobs in a lot of places: college campus minister, third wave coffeehouse barista, downtown executive assistant, nursing home activities director. And in each of these roles, behind every counter and in every cubicle, writing found me. When life pressed up against me, folding me in on myself and turning me toward the mess of light and darkness inside, words spilled out. But they had nowhere to go.
Without writing, I lived on the shores of my own life, confined to my own very limited definition of adulthood and maturity. But for me, living safe also meant compromising the very thing I had expected to magically happen to me. Life couldn’t sculpt or beautify me until I actually went inside it to face my own depths. Colors and songs and tastes and prayers just couldn’t truly happen to me until I wrote.
It took the jolt of a surprise pregnancy to push me back into the creative process. I started a blog as a way to process impending motherhood, and little by little, as I engaged with myself and my words, I changed. I started to see things differently: darkness as opportunity for light, emptiness as grounds for imagining, difficulties as roundabout paths toward beauty.
More than a way to contain the mess, writing actually chiseled away at my perspective until I didn’t see a mess at all. When I wrote, I only saw potential. All of life turned into raw material for art. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “for the creator, there is no poor, indifferent place.” I was a born-again writer, and I suddenly had eyes to really see, instead of just look.
So there I stood, wide-eyed, pen in hand, watching myself and my world unfurl. I had finally left the shore. Putting words to the untamed parts of me was like storming uncharted territory with light and life. I began to see the beauty hidden in the creases of my livelihood, the dark parts of me I had been so afraid to peer into. Fourteenth-century theologian Meister Eckhart wrote, “There is a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch."
My words invited me to that place. And there, I finally saw how wrong I was. I had it all backwards. What if no one was asking me to shape the world with my words? What if the writing process was meant to shape me?
A small, momentary yes has power to change us. In the act of contemplative prayer, Christian mystics called the “desert fathers” would retreat to a quiet place to connect with God, getting away from the noise of the world to examine their souls and repose their hearts. Over time, the mundane faithfulness of this practice opened them up to love, and ultimately to deep inward transformation.
I think the practice of art, the entire creative process, churns the same slow, deep growth inside of us. The simple act of putting pen to paper, moving our hands to the rhythms of our hearts, can take on a sharper edge in shaping us than the milestones that pass through our stories. The real fruit comes in the reflecting, the searching, the noticing.
To be faithful to the impulse to create, to integrate our craft, whatever it is, into our routine, is a gentle daily drift away from the shoreline of ourselves into our own depths. As we go beyond our circumstances, straight into the wildest terrain of our being, we discover a healthy, even vital tension: we say yes to ourselves both as we are and as we could be. We grow at the same time accustomed to ourselves and altogether unfamiliar. We see what we are, but just a bit beyond that, we find our potential. And most of all, we see we aren’t what we thought. We are so much more.
And that changes everything.
Ashley Abramson is an eternal English major whose natural habitat is any combination of words and people. Writing coach to storytellers of all kinds and editor of Tapestry Magazine, Ashley has also written for RELEVANT, Curator Magazine, Village Magazine, and the Influence Network. She and her family make their home in Minneapolis, MN, but you can find Ashley online at ashleyabramson.com or on Instagram @ashleyabrmsn.
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