stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness”
From Galway Kinnell, “St. Francis and the Sow”
I was a small girl in Brooklyn, between broken English and broken hearts, whispered Yiddish, banned Russian (too much evil at the hands of…), buried Ladino (the language of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula—Spain and Portugal—and beyond), and the constant haunting by all the languages that would have been mine if my ancestors had stayed in one place or another as they fled and journeyed. In Brooklyn, when anyone would sympathetically or derisively mention someone as a late bloomer—and having seen flowers as exotica in the projects, where only hardy yellow forsythia grew; having a mother named for a flower—Rose, but called Rosie, which was rarely her disposition and when it was, blink; I would giggle unheard and envision only a pair of enormous underwear billowing in the breeze on a clothesline like a parachute inflating and zigzagging the sky. Perhaps such bloomers and parachutes, both, were hoping for soft landing but rarely found one.
So, long road since that vision. But for many writers, for many who dream of being a writer, for many who cannot even dream but perhaps may find themselves thrown to the work someday, the road is long to writing what truly pleases them, what truly expresses their own complexity and truth, experience and vision, spirit and heart, history and arrival into knowledge.
There are many answers, obviously, much to do with economics and responsibilities; trauma and the need to run; oppression and dismissal of one’s gifts in family, community and society. I needn’t go through the deep context of why Malala Yusefzai, a young girl in Pakistan, was shot in the head in 2012 for wanting to read, to go to school and be educated, with all that implies; nor why the “boyfriend” of one of my students in East Harlem would beat her for coming to school, or even wanting to. Or how various kinds of abuse makes one swallow one’s own voice, or not be able to locate it.
But I want to address one thing, just one thing, and indeed only a symptom of the larger context, but this may be of use. Indeed, it helps me to understand the large club of “late bloomers,” of which I am most certainly a member, and perhaps to take a look again with the idea that consciousness about something does indeed help make change.
For many “late bloomers,” without then going into the vast array of reasons why, there has been a conscious and, likely even more so, an unconscious argument raging within. And I am not here addressing all that may tell someone they are not “good enough” or “smart or talented enough” to be a writer. I want to simply address one symptom of all this.
One symptom of many late bloomers (not late bloomers having a great time on a grand journey, learning millions of things, and then turning to writing after many full years) is not believing or trusting one’s own vision, one’s own opinion, one’s own response, one’s own language.
We may often wonder at others’ sense of security and confidence, sometimes even their seemingly unquestioning belief in their own gifts and their own point of view. We may spend time trying to assess why they feel that way, or even noting what we may deem (or want to deem) a lack of quality.But, of course, what we need to address is not others’ confidence or blindness or easy road or community of support. What we need to notice is what eats away at our writing, our language, our vision of our creative work. What we need to notice is whether we ultimately look to others for affirmation of what we are doing—or are about to do or would like to do!—or whether we believe in our vision, in the absolute okay-ness of our explorations and experiments and drawing forward of story.
What we need to know is whether there is that ogre of doubt devouring—as Chronos/Saturn devoured his own children (bloodily depicted by Spanish painter Goya)—every page of our work—whether before we write it or after, when we may devalue and ignore it. We need to know if Chronos sits in our throat, made small as a trick, but actually filling our language with his bluster and threat and hunger for the blood of our creations. If he is, we will never know our beauty. If he is, we will never know our full power and voice, our completely, or nearly completely, blossomed story and words. If he is, and we do not expel him, at least part or much of the time, word after word, the distillation of life and love of language, of experience and artistry, drops right into that bloody mouth of Chronos and is gone, bone crunched, exploded delicacy of blood vessel, live cell after live cell of words—gone. Gone. Often before we might even have known and loved and shaped those words, and slept as a writer, having bloomed for those moments we so cherish.
This kind of late bloomer has been giving away her or his power through the belief that someone else is right, and that one’s own words, stories, visions, writings, cannot be trusted.
Turn the head to find the authority.
Tell me how to write.
Tell me how to shape it.
Tell me how to structure it.
Tell me how to make the characters speak.
Tell me what they shouldn’t say.
Tell me if flashbacks are ok (they better be! Many writers have them!)
Tell me if this, my heart, makes any sense to you.
Tell me I am wrong, as I feared, and talentless, and I can leave this tightrope.
Tell me what to do.
Classes in creative writing can be amazing.
But beware!!! I say this as a “teacher” of creative writing, as someone who has experienced many forms of these kinds of classes and workshops from both ends.
Beware of those who dictate formulae, rules, conventions. Beware of those with easy, pat little responses; i.e., I don’t believe your character because she is working class, and working class people do not have a large vocabulary.
This is a pretty direct quote from an upper middle class white male to me…and what saved me was my anger. Knowing, as a very working class person, that many of us, even early on, have been blooming a language of beauty and story, filled with language we hunted down like the precious food it was, not to take it but to note how it echoed our hearts and minds. When we found those words, they were immediately ours. Others came more slowly, or found different purposes. But we get language from reading, from listening, from story, from elders, from kids hanging on the corner, from immigrants; from the sounds of the cities we inhabit (like screech and long howl of subway at South Ferry, later flooded by Hurricane Sandy); from the towns and fields; from spirit—its work and its song, its prayer and its healing, whether its address be stone and marble, altar or dance, the cathedrals of the natural world; from work; and from whatever blessing of word that comes to us, from us, through us; from ancestral memory, and the mix of languages lost and found.
Blessed anger in me that knew, He was wrong! Here I am! How can he know? His words are all straightforward, unbroken, piled up like first editions on a clean table.
I said so. Sometimes the only thing keeping a late bloomer from being a dead and bloomless creature, is anger. “You have said something terrible about me and the people I love, and it is not true! And I am here and alive and can speak and I tell you, it is not true!”
Sometimes you are believed. Sometimes you are not.
But I tell myself, and I ask you, my late bloomers club, to take that belief in, that belief in your own vision and language, and experience and love, and aching bones of ancestry and magical songs and foods; take that belief into the flowers of your tongue and soul and art, and bless…each…word…coming…forward.
Let your writing, let our writing, be blessed from within, and be born, and bloom.