“Absolute attention is an act of generosity.” ~Simone Weil
When I was a child, I used to write poems as presents for my parents on birthdays and holidays.
I’d sit quietly and think of what I wanted to say. Then I’d try to turn that into musical language. I’d write those words on the page, and then I’d draw a picture to go with it.
It didn’t occur to me to even ask whether my parents would like my poem or not; I just assumed they would.
Then I got older. I stopped giving my parents poems for presents. I stopped writing poems.
I didn’t write poetry again until I was in college, and then I began to wonder whether my poetry was “good.” Were my poems “good enough” to get me into the advanced poetry workshop? Would they dazzle the teacher? Would the other students like them?
I paid more attention to the way the words sounded on the page than to what I actually was saying. The depth was covered up by surface. And after all, I wasn’t sure I wanted to really bring my depth to the surface for other people to see.
I didn’t write poetry very much again until I was pregnant with my first child. Then what was inside me—literally—was calling my attention. I started to put it on the page.
But there was still this concern about whether what I was creating was “good enough.”
I’ve been dancing with that “good enough” question for many years. I see now that that question is not just about my writing, but about myself, about my own interior life, and about the relationship between that interior life and my external life: Can my depth come out on the surface? Is my surface appropriate for my depth? Will I be seen, appreciated, understood? And how can I develop myself to the best of my potential, showing up and not shying away from who I am and want to be?
Now, many years later, I’m a creative writer and a creative writing teacher, and I see my students similarly worry about whether their work is “good enough.”
I often tell them that their concern, that comes out in relation to their writing, is really a deeper question of how they approach themselves.
I tell them that, yes, the writing for so many of us brings out these insecurities, uncertainties, and learned patterns of thinking about ourselves that otherwise would lie buried. But that the writing doesn’t create those insecurities, uncertainties, or learned patterns. They’re there within us—and all around us.
From the time we’re little, we’re given messages…