The Everyday Words

I’m not sure why it came as such a surprise to me. A few months into a period of not-writing-much-at-all, I discovered that I was suffering from what some might call writer’s block. I had gone from blogging a few times a week to a few times a month, if that. Pitches and proposals had stalled.

There were — or, let’s be honest, there are — a few ideas I’m kicking around, but I avoid the hard work of expressing them. I’m anxious about the work I might produce, nervous that it won’t be articulate, that no one will appreciate it, and that it won’t garner the appropriate amount of blog hits to satisfy my ego. So in my motivated moments I freeze, scared that my work won’t meet my expectations.

Confessing this fear is my way of taking responsibility for the fact that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like. I should look that fear in the face,but doing so involves wrestling with a larger question, and maybe hearing an answer I might not  like. The question I have been trying to avoid: Do I have anything to say?

My writing took off during a period of my life that was fraught with struggle. I was in a long-distance relationship that was constantly strained. We were in love but working in separate states, and we were determined to wait until we could have the jobs we wanted that were in the same place. The wait ended up being four years. I wrote to tell God how frustrated I was that things weren’t working out, and I wrote to articulate a more mature faith that did not rely on getting what I wanted all the time.

Then I developed a mystery illness and had to go through the process of accepting a hardship all over again. I learned to live with pain, had major surgery, and battled post-traumatic stress. I wrote to admit that it was hard. I wrote to name and critique the struggle in order to find some power over it.

I came to believe more strongly in the power of words to make meaning of my situations. I wrote privately and publicly. It helped me, and by all accounts it helped others. I learned that I liked writing. It made me feel like I was contributing, and it helped me understand the world better.

Life is much easier now. My husband and I are living happily in the same city. My disease is in remission. My trauma is receding into memory. But I’m not writing in the same way I did in those difficult days.

Remembering how important writing was to me and how it made me feel powerful in a helpless season, I feel guilty for writing less.  I worry that the answer to that terrifying question — Do I have anything to say? — is no. Those years of turmoil were packed with drama, and I wonder if days without drama can be interesting enough. I sit with another question: Can I still create without pain to inspire me?

Of course I can. It was never really pain that inspired me. I was driven by the same impulse that always drives me: the desire to connect with others and to find meaning in life. When I could barely drag myself out of bed, writing was a lifeline. New love and chronic pain gave me plenty to think about, and long hours in the car gave me lots of time to reflect. The life I knew broke into a million pieces, and I used words to put it back together.

In this new, calmer season of life, I don’t need words to do the same things they did when I was suffering. I used paragraphs and pages to connect and construct, in health I do those things differently. Relationship is still the message, and words are still the medium, but the format has changed.

Now, writing looks like this: I stay late at school and come up with new lesson plans. I plan retreats and prayer services. With more energy for my musical pursuits I learn new songs, update my resume, audition and perform. I follow up quickly and thoroughly to emails. I develop programming for an arts non-profit.  And, from time to time, I write for writing’s sake.

Of course that is not the end of my words. After so many housebound months, with flagging energy and unpredictable pain, I am free to meet up with old friends and I visit my family. When a colleague stops by my desk with a question or a hello, I close my laptop and listen to them. I pay compliments. This connection that sparkles between people is the most important thing I can create, and it remains the true goal of my words.

Despite that spark, I still feel a twinge of guilt for not churning out blog posts and articles and pitches. That very guilt is a sign that I may break the writer’s block when the time is right, that the motivation to pour myself into formal writing will appear, and that I do have something to say. In the meantime, I am exploring the everyday words, and directing them toward the connection to which I am called.

How do the everyday words inspire you? What are some ways you connect with others? How has your purpose, your flow, your motivation changed through different seasons of your life?

Margaret Felice

Margaret Felice is a religion teacher by day and singing actress by night. She runs, practices yoga, conducts liturgical choirs, and still finds time to read, write, and spend time with her husband.

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  • Robert Julian Braxton

    My exploration from mid-2009 is with syllables and so my “writing” begins as being destructive – cutting, sequencing, eliminating all that is excess and then in some cases cutting even more. A Hindu friend had helped me to see (for myself) that out of the (god of) destruction (de-struct) come materials for creation or perhaps just that part of the process is in itself creation, a “making” and “form” and “structure” – with syllables and sounds – similar to the kind of work / works and activity of the earthworms in our huge 32-year composting – from leaves and grass blades, scraps (kitchen) and peels into worm castings. Jesus said, “cast” – on the other side (of fishing boat) and I hear.

  • Are you living inside my mind, Margaret? Because all the things you said, so much me too. And reading your words has given me peace in knowing it’s not the written words that carry the greatest connection but the importance of the everyday words spoken with meaning and a smile. The simple courtesy of “Good morning”. Thank you!

  • Margaret, you ask such good, hard questions here. It’s true how the pain pushes us more quickly towards creative absolution. And I love the reminder that connection is the whole reason we write words at all. Thank you for dignifying the everyday words. So glad you’re here.

  • “It was never really pain that inspired me. I was driven by the same impulse that always drives me: the desire to connect with others and to find meaning in life.” I think you are right. I write to express myself, but ultimately it is to connect with others. I want to encourage and be encouraged by those who can say, “Me, too.” Sometimes it’s the everyday words that are needed the most. Our words don’t have to be spectacular to make connections. We just need to be willing and available. Thank you for sharing and putting into words what we all struggle with. Blessings to you!