Postmarked: Dear Jen (14)

Dear Jen

I’m writing this at around 4 a.m. in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. For some reason, I had it in my mind that this week was your week to write, and so even as recently as last night I asked myself, I wonder when Jen is going to send me her letter? Then, this morning as I peeled myself out of bed at 2:30 a.m., I realized it was my week! So, here I am.

It wasn’t that your letter last week wasn’t memorable! In fact, I have been thinking quite often about the quote you pulled from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal: “I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, ‘oh God please,’ and ‘I must,’ and ‘please, please.’” Reading that has challenged me in a few different ways.

First, it’s encouraged me to be much more honest with God. It’s not that I’ve been blatantly dishonest, but I think I subconsciously keep from mentioning some of my true desires to him, often because I question the integrity or value of those desires. It occurred to me that I have never mentioned to God that I want to be a successful writer, never asked God for such a thing.

Second, reading her words has helped me to own that desire. Like you, I find her request rather audacious! But what’s wrong with that?

I currently find myself at a kind of crossroads. I’ve just begun writing the last book in my current contract, and so naturally I find myself looking forward, wondering where this writing life might take me, wondering what books I want to write in the coming years. My publisher asked me to think about my broader writing goals and the direction I see myself going, and get back to them. Maybe there are writers who could quickly answer such questions, but I found myself rendered speechless.

Who am I?

What kind of stories do I want to write?

What direction do I see my writing going?

I’m not really sure. I guess on my good days I’m writing stories that help me explore life’s deepest and most unanswerable questions, the things I’m always wondering about. On good writing days, I’m reading more often. On those good days, I go deep into the story, sit quietly in it, and there’s something about the writing that makes me feel more like a conduit than a source.

On bad writing days (which, to be honest, have seemed to dominate as of late), I find myself distracted by social media, my mind flitting here and there. I grow weary of the noise. I lose my fascination with the incredible freshness of life.

I think a lot about the Mr. Rogers’ quote, that “Deep and simple is more essential than shallow and complex.” I wonder how my writing could be deeper and simpler? Maybe this is the direction I would like to go. Maybe this is the answer.

The airport is starting to wake up around me. There is my reflection in the glass, and through it I can see planes meandering to their gates. In a distant terminal, people scurry like ants. So much movement. So much hurry. For what? I wonder.

November has arrived! I hope it is a good month for you and your family. I am looking forward to Advent more than I have in the past. I think I need to sit in a nice patch of darkness and wait for a while.

Kind Regards