I taught English for many years in what I sometimes refer to as my “old life.” I taught writing to 6th graders who were one-part children and five-parts hormonal whirlwinds. I taught writing to 11th graders who were in a lockdown facility who honestly could not care less about roads diverging in yellow woods unless one of those roads led the hell out of lockdown and turned a corner past where they came from. And I taught writing at the university level to those who should have taken the class as freshmen but who usually put it off for a variety of reasons.
I have spent a lot of years teaching writing, in turns, as a chore, a test, an exercise, a hurdle, a standard, an art, and a craft — and I have loved every moment. The multidimensionality of writing thrills me, and I loved teaching the beauty and rhythm in words coming alive.
But being a writer, however, is different.
Where I taught writing as a skill, like a gunslinger mastering a revolver in different shootouts, I have learned that being a writer is about taming the beast.
There is a certain responsibility in taming a beast, an obligation to not only the public at large that the beast might threaten but to the beast itself. Like the words that live and move inside me, so does the beast. It breathes; it feels; it snarls with palpitating emotion. My words desire most to be heard and be given a voice, and if they must be tamed in order to reach people than that sacrifice is acceptable to me. But not if it means they must be broken.
Being a writer, to me, means to never allow my voice to be broken. Again.
It happened once before, long ago, when I was just 19 years old. My voice broke so subtly I didn’t even recognize it was happening with the first “No!” I shouted.
Writers have a responsibility to the beasts inside themselves, to allow these creatures room to pace and prowl, to roam the night of their hearts. To tame them, give them safe harbor to howl their hurts, and then to speak. We speak for what we have tamed, give them voice, and bring them light.
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