In my next life, I hope to be a dancer, a singer or an actor. I harbor a secret desire to perform on stage – to inhabit someone else’s life and pour out my soul for crowds of strangers. This desire is entirely irrational because I have absolutely ZERO musical ability. I’m tone-deaf and my rhythm is nonexistent. Plus I can’t even lie well, much less act.
Tonight my mom, my mother-in-law and I took Em to see Riverdance. She loves all forms of dancing and, unlike her mother, may actually have some budding talent. I’ve never seen feet move so fast in my life! I longed, just once, for weightlessness. To leap in the air and land without sound one minute and use my feet and my whole body as an instrument the next. To hear the crackle of applause turn to a roar. Take a bow.
On the drive home, I started wondering if there is some connection between my tiny, unspoken (until now) desire to perform and my much larger desire to write (specifically, to be published). On the one hand, writing is a very private, solo pursuit. One of the main reasons I started this blog, for example, is to get myself used to other people reading my writing. Most of the time I write only for myself and self-consciousness and self-doubt prevents me from flinging my written words onto the unsuspecting soul wandering by.
On the other hand, if writers were not exhibitionists in some way, then getting published wouldn’t be so important, right? Sure, there’s a legitimate need to earn a living and pay the bills, but we could do that by ghost writing or writing within a corporation or nonprofit (which I did for many years). There is some other aspiration at play here. What is it?
Sitting in the audience tonight I could feel the resonance of the music and dancing travel up my spinal column and leave behind jubilation. Had I been watching a wrenching opera, more likely melancholy would be the resonant emotion. Writing is the same way. I can just as easily feel the vibration of a sentence as I can a piece of music. Resonance occurs when the words touch a personal truth. In my current book, Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, she describes her fear of flying and turbulence this way: “My heart thumped around my chest like a tennis shoe in the dryer.” When I read that sentence, I practically shouted, “YES! YES, that is EXACTLY what it feels like!!” I felt vindicated, somehow, that there is another person intimately acquainted with that fear and who gave it expression.
Writers, like the dancers, want to connect. We want to put our work on a stage in the hope that someone’s life, however momentarily, might be improved by the experience. There is no doubt also a wee bit of, “Hey, look at me! Over here!” Mostly though, I think it’s part of the human need to reach out. We stomp out our sentences and pirouette through paragraphs to choreograph a story in the hope of reaching someone, anyone – perhaps even ourselves. Then a small piece of the ravages of our minds can be left as a legacy before we take our final bows.