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Are You Writing Still?

By Kent Ira Groff

Browsing in the bookstore,
an acquaintance queried,
“Are you writing still?”

I knew what she meant-
are you still writing,
finding ideas that you want to
(no must) share with the world?
What she asked was easy-about
evidence, externals: have you
published an article,
a book, a poem, an essay?

But that’s not how I heard it.
“Are you writing still?”
Are you writing your way home,
into the still point in the turning
world? Are you fingering
your way gently, yet with stupendous
expectation, the way a paleontologist
fingers an unfathomable dinosaur
fragment-still enough
to unearth a tiny piece of a giant
thing that may upend
the world-something that might,
if it’s reconstructed with imagination,
leave not just me, but all posterity
speechless, still?

But whoa! The flood of words
that would follow the awe:
my fingers couldn’t find
enough keys to describe
the indescribable, until
I would be writing still

And my questioner
would be reading still.

I love it when stuff happens like this. Some unsuspected firefly zooms by and calls me back to what I do and why: writing about ordinary experiences with a spiritual spin. But mini-epiphanies like this are usually less like a lightning bug and more like lightning.

In 2006 I had a contract for my book Writing Tides. I confided in a colleague group how hard it is to write while going through a major transition: in my case a move from my East Coast roots to Colorado. One said, “Just accept it’s impossible.” (Did anyone ever tell you something that made you know you needed to do the opposite?) I quipped, “I think writing will save me from drowning this year!” In that instant I knew I had to write. A divine must.

“Write as if you were dying.” Annie Dillard’s words in The Writing Life rattled around in my head as I drove home. Over the next months friends would ask, “How’s the book going?” One time I said, “I’m into the chapter on writing as diving, and I’m in over my head.” My friend asked did I know Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck”?

After we talked, I raced to my den. With a few deep breaths, I went online and found Rich’s poem. I could feel the poet plunging into the wreck of a woman’s life using ancient myths as her scuba gear: words become her Global Positioning System. But she never loses sight of the object: to experience the wreck, not facts about somebody else’s wreck. Connecting rusty links of my afternoon’s unbidden research, I felt my spirit hoisted out of the rubble of defeat into delight. I was writing non-stop. I was late for dinner.

From my extrovert side, sharing my struggles and the interactions beget treasured stories that make their way into the writing and strengthen my resolve.

My introvert side takes refuge in poem-making as a way of processing empty times and struggles. Often I thought my colleague had been right: it was impossible to write while downsizing, selling a house Pennsylvania, and building a new one in Denver. Once when I had nothing to say I wrote about that.

I write
about nothing.
No thing.
Ah! No thing really
only relationships.

In so few lines, nothing had morphed into everything! Poems that take me to the still place often make it into my semi-memoir and non-fiction style. Even the editing process, which can seem knit-picky to an intuitive like me, has the potential of bringing me home.

While I do this grit
work, season
the irksome pieces
with enough
Ahas! to remind me
of the reason.

Writing Tides did save me from drowning that year, and I made the due date for the final edit. Even on moving day I still sequestered myself with my laptop between boxes for a few last minute edits. There’s that word still.

Shortly after we moved to Denver, when someone asked me what I do, I heard myself say, “I listen to people’s stories and give them back to them.” I am still listening, and yes, I am writing still.

KENT IRA GROFF is a spiritual companion for journeyers, a retreat leader, and a writer poet living in Denver, Colorado. He describes his work as “one beggar showing other beggars where to find bread.” You can travel with Kent in Active Spirituality: A Guide for Seekers and Ministers, Journeymen: A Spiritual Guide for Men and The Soul of Tomorrow’s Church. Share his passion to reach beyond church doors in What Would I Believe If I Didn’t Believe Anything?: A Handbook for Spiritual Orphans and to communicate in Writing Tides: Finding Grace and Growth through Writing and in poetry, Facing East, Praying West: Poetic Justice and Spiritual Exercises (Paulist Press, 2010). Kent enjoys coaching people into Spirit and life through their fingertips. Visit his website for writings and events:


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