From the Walls of Your Mind

“If you are not learning, you have not been paying attention. / If you have nothing to say, it is because your heart is closed.”

-Tony Hoagland

I am leaning against the kitchen counter as Mom pours an afternoon pot of coffee, me gushing about the latest author I’ve been reading. We spend many days this way, and the best part of my coming home for the summer is having access to far more bookshelves than I can fit in a dorm room, stealing what Mom’s been reading, her listening to the essays and poetry I’ve been cramming into my mind in my freetime, on my lunch break, before I go to sleep. I’ve just finished an essay by Wendell Berry—one work out of hundreds of essays and poems and novels.

“Can you imagine having written that much in your lifetime?” I ask her. She pauses while she pours in her hazelnut creamer, quietly adding: “Or having that much to say.”

That notion has struck me and stuck to me closer than anything else, because if I am to contribute anything to this world, I would want it to be a voice. But it’s more than that. I want some way to scorch the world with meaning and purpose and beauty and whatever else actually matters. Or maybe I just want a name for myself—something that achieves the concept of legacy we all inwardly struggle for.  Either way, it’s days like these recent ones that have made me feel more silent, more powerless than ever.

Because in a culture where you’re expected to prove your opinions, experiences, morals, and political agenda through tweets and statuses, remaining silent isn’t even an option. But the irony, or course, is that though everyone has nearly unlimited opportunity to speak publically and influentially, fewer and fewer people actually have anything of substance to say. And when media controls the story and dictates what people perceive as truth, and when the media is controlled by the people who yell the loudest, all you’re left with is noise. This doesn’t make people any less determined to add to it.

~

Zora Neale Hurston asks “What do you hang on the walls of you mind?” And so I wrack the corners of mine, scraping through the cobwebs and dust, searching for the things I know to be true. Looking for what only I can say, wondering if my mind could ever be full enough to fill the pages of books with words people need to hear. Not words they will buy, not even words that will get me published, but words that will stir and churn up the surface of lives.

But I’d be foolish to assume that I have within me some entirely original thought that had never been thought or expressed before. And that’s part of the reason for the stack of books I cycle through on my bedside table, as I keep hoping to learn and soak in the methods of these people who all had something built up inside them, needing to emerge. I pray that by reading and memorizing and imitating the sentences that have survived the oblivions of the world, the words that have kept on breathing, I’ll be able to communicate the truths that are bigger than what I can carry. The truths that aren’t exclusively or uniquely mine, but real.

I spend quite a few of my lunch breaks in my town’s library, running my fingers along the spines of books pinched back to back on the rows of metal shelves. Books on every topic, attempting to answer every question imaginable. I’ve had trouble trying to write lately. I think it’s my idealist nature still questioning whether the things I think are the things I need to say. And every time I walk through these aisles breathing in old paper, a part of me doubts that I really have anything to possibly add. I try to remember how stories matter. How there are things that are worth being said over and over again.

~

To speak about meaningful things, I am pursuing the ability to think meaningfully—that uncomfortable process that most have no real interest in. It means wrestling with myself, with my views of the world, comparing them with those wiser than I, treading water exhausted when I can find no answers and no explanation to cling to. And only the most broken and hurting parts of the world can topple us into that kind of questioning. But the broken and hurting parts are also the ones that mean the most. Look for the parts that grieve us and tangle us and cause us to double over in sorrow, and you will find the truths that make us human. You will find the treads that connect us to every other soul.

Not everyone wants to hear those stories, those truths. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be said.

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What We Find When We Go Looking

So I realize that it’s been two weeks since the start of 2016, and we’re all pretty much done talking about it. Trust me, I get it. So forgive me for not acknowledging that and throwing in my own two cents anyway.

In all honesty, I’m kinda ritualistic about the new year. Other people flock the gyms, but as for me, January is the month I pull out all the journals and desperately try to make sense of what I’m doing with my life. It’s a big, sometimes stressful task even though I personally think that the new year has unrealistic pressures and expectations already. It looks kinda like this:

I make the cliche resolutions list about the reading I want to spend time on and my handshake I want to improve. I set goals about the writing I want to get published and the internship I want to get. I even write up a yearly bucket list of the crazy wonderful things I hope will finally happen like Europe and road trips and whatever else I dream up. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting, and for some bizarre reason I get resolution and healing from that sort of process, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The one habit I would recommend is really the only  thing I want to talk to you about in this post. See, being an English major, I like finding words for stuff. I like words in general and what they mean and what they represent. I like finding the right word. So not surprisingly, I do that for each year. For the last three years, I’ve selected a word that I want to make significant in the following months. It gives me time to focus on it and engage with it. It helps me to pay greater attention, which is the larger goal in the first place.

The word I chose is actually kind of anticlimactic, which is disappointing since I’m all about that flair and romantic drama. But the more I thought about it, the more no other word seemed to fit.

So that’s why 2016 is the year I choose to seek.

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You hear this word almost always in relation to a thing, an object. Seek advice, seek wisdom, seek beauty, seek the kingdom, seek something. I chose the word seek because I want to seek out all of it.

I don’t want to merely wait and accept what finds its way to me. Though I believe much of what is significant or meaningful to us seems to “find us” in a way, it’s much easier for illumination and discovery to stumble into you if you are also out looking for it.

I want to seek out the projects, the essays, the writing assignments that intimidate me me so I can better realize my own potential. I want to seek out the rough, unanswerable questions that can’t be summed up in Christian cliches and the ideas that can’t be simplified into bullet pointed sermon notes. I’m seeking for peace and a better sense of self after feeling like a part of me was buried in frozen ground with my 19-year-old cousin’s casket.

I suppose I’m searching for what we all are, to some degree. Seeking for what truly matters in the world and what I’m supposed to make matter in return. Looking for what makes me come alive and what that is supposed to do for the people around me. Hunting for the most vital, which is also the most terrifying. So I guess my greatest hope for myself, for all of us, is that may learn to seek without being afraid of what we might find.

 

“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”                                                                   Vincent Van Goh