Day four of the A to Z challenge. Today we’ll dig with Irish poet Seamus Heaney and get a little daring with American shame researcher, writer and speaker Brene Brown.
First, some words from Heaney and Brown:
…I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.” – Brown, from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead.
…But I’ve no spade to follow men like them
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it. – Heaney, from Digging, in the collection, Death of a Naturalist
I think Brown taps into a common writerly fear, that our work, and perhaps by extension ourselves, must be good enough to gain the attention of that increasingly difficult-to-get New York agent, the big publishing house, the advance, and so on and so on. There are, of course, some practicalities there, in that an advance can provide us the money to keep writing and the marketing arm of the big publishing house can get the work in the right places so the book can earn more money and the writing can continue. Important, of course. But my sense with many writers is that a large part of the agent and big-publishing-house seeking is a quest for validation, the validation that our work is not, in fact, ordinary. We feel the need to be extraordinary, or to stay at home, shove the work in the top drawer, move on to the next project, the one that will be extraordinary. I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s time to let go of the notion that ordinary isn’t good enough, in ourselves and in our writing. I think Heaney offers us the key. (Yes, I know, I’m using Seamus Heaney as an example, hardly your unknown poet-in-hiding. Hang with me, please).
In, Digging, the speaker of the poem holds a pen in his hand. He recalls his father and grandfather digging potatoes and peat, going down and down for the good turf. Digging. His descriptions are clear, concise, fully present, of these ordinary men, digging potatoes (ordinary) and turf (even more ordinary). But I’ve no space to follow men like them. And he’s also not going to wander off into some poetic angst and bemoan how he doesn’t fit in. Between my finger and my thumb/ The squat pen rests./ I’ll dig with it. It’s just what he does. And in being fully present with the ordinary and not just accepting it but digging into it, Heaney offers us something incredibly meaningful.
So, with that in mind, I encourage you to return to the page, be fully your ordinary self, and dig, dig, dig, find your sense of purpose, keep returning to it and develop a faith that your ordinary writing can offer something meaningful to the rest of us ordinary folks.