Last weekend while my husband and I were preparing dinner, the subject of writing came up. He said, “I miss your Lofty Minded posts.” Then I told him that in the past year I’ve started lots of posts but have decided against publishing them. A look through my saved files shows 32 blog posts I’ve started and abandoned since the last time I posted. I’m not sure what to make of this, only that I’ve had a hard time processing all that’s going on in the world, and it’s affected my writing.
Each time I’ve almost posted, I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes because what I was trying to say came across as too angry, or hasty, or cynical. Other times the posts felt pointless, either because the subject matter was already being covered better by a hundred other writers, or because while putting my thoughts out there might get a few amens and yeses, in the end it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.
I think my dilemma is that I’m expecting too much of my writing. I’m expecting it to give answers. I’m expecting it to come to obvious conclusions. I’m expecting it to make some kind of difference.
While it should have been obvious ages ago, I’m just now figuring out that my writing isn’t supposed to do any of those things. My writing is just meant to be me, here in my world, talking to you in yours.
In my world it’s cold today.
It’s cold but it’s calm and bright. When you stand at just the right angle and turn your face directly toward the sun on days like this, you can feel a little heat.
And so I found myself out there this afternoon, chasing the sun. I wandered around our five acres without a destination or a purpose other than to just be here, now. It’s become something of a medicine for me, this kind of wandering around familiar ground. I revisit the same places and each time I’m an explorer. Each time I come across something I hadn’t expected to see. Maybe a squirrel squirreling away her winter stash, or a lanky birch tree hidden among the spruce. It’s small scale exploration, but exploration just the same.
When I was out there restoring myself, I visited the chicken coop. Not to offer food or to check for eggs, but to watch them go about their chicken lives. I watched them cluck and peck at each other while I put the pieces of this essay together in my head, then I walked down the hill through the wild roses to the island of tall trees in the meadow. This fall I found a corvid’s nest in one of the spruces there, and a secret hideaway in the alders that looked like it might have been a bear’s home.
Then I cut through the tall grass to the area below our fire pit where the nettles are thick. In early summer, when they were just inches high, we collected buckets of them to save for winter.
Now it’s winter and in the evenings we light candles and we sip mint tea infused with those springtime nettles. I have it in my mind that whatever goodness is hidden in their dried leaves will work on us throughout the winter, give us some edge to help us through.
In the mornings we pull on wool socks and sweaters and stoke the fire in the wood stove. We drink creamy coffee with afghans draped over our laps while we read the morning news and wait for the house to warm up. We lean into the comforts of winter because to fight it would be pointless and because at the height of summer it never gets truly dark and for months at a time there are no stars or planets to be seen and the milky way is something we nearly forget until one night it’s back and we remember that it was never really gone.
I remember my first winter in Alaska.
We lived further north than we live now, deep inside a shaded valley where the sun didn’t rise above the mountains for two months. My husband worked the swing shift and sometimes, when the snow wasn’t too deep, I’d walk with my baby on my back from our house to the trails that led to the Eagle River. I was never comfortable walking through the woods like that, alone and in the near-dark, but I’d go anyhow. Along the way I’d remind myself that the bears were asleep, that it was unlikely I’d run into a person who’d want to do me harm, that if we started to get too cold I could turn back toward home.
I’d walk in spite of the fear because I knew I’d go nuts if I stayed cooped up all the time. I’d go out in the cold and dark so that I could come home again, back to the heat and the light.
Now it’s late and the house is quiet except for its usual hums and the crackling of the fire. My husband has gone to bed and I’m at my keyboard again.
I hesitate to tell you that I’m sad, but it’s true. It’s easier to say that I’m worried.
I worry about the big picture things. I worry about our planet being controlled by power hungry billionaires. I worry about our government being run by an administration that lacks a moral compass. I worry about justice. I worry that we’re becoming a country that accepts mass shootings as a byproduct of freedom. I worry about the decline of honey bees and about giant copper mines in salmon country. I worry about the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels, and the acidity of the ocean.
This year I’ve wondered how to write about these things. I’ve wondered if I should even bother.
Now I’m setting myself and my writing free from the responsibility of holding back the impending avalanche. Instead I’m sending it out there to flap in the wind like a prayer flag. No expectations, no answers, no obvious conclusions. Just words in the air, free from the burden of having to change anything.
31 thoughts on “Prayer Flags”
Receiving the spirit of your prayer flags down here in Seattle (briefly). So wonderful to hear your words again Teresa! They are so honest and are always a balm, whether you are peaceful or expressing anger. I see and feel many of the same things that you have the courage to express and share. Thank you.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I hope Seattle was fun, and I hope to see you back in Homer soon!
Theresa—Love, Love, Love this piece. I can relate. Thank you.
Thanks so much, Susan! I feel so lucky to have met you at the K-Bay Writers’ Conference. Hopefully our paths will cross again. And thank you for sharing my writing with your Facebook friends.
Love the prayer flag analogy. I saw some flying in the wind on a porch recently and had the thought that it was good idea to send up prayers in every way possible during these worrisome times. Thank you!
Thanks for reading and yes, sending up prayers in every way possible seems important now. I hope all is well!
A beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.
Thank you so much for reading, and for leaving a comment!
I’d like to read some of those abandoned ones, I’m guessing many of them capture my roiling emotions and thoughts on life in these times and the Big Picture
They certainly capture the rolling emotions! There were even some about the city council. 🙂
prayer flags are so apt. Its all we can do when those darker emotions hit. i like to use those thoughts and feeligs as a reminder to pray for the opposite … acidification? …. thank you ! now visulaizing a sweet abundant and clean ocean.
I think its time to paint visions of healing in words and send them out there. activate … in the beginning was the word… loving to hear your thoughts Teresa.
Thanks for commenting and for reading, Jess!
The best one yet.
Just be you, that’s all ya gotta do, and who else can do that?
Oh thank you so much. That means the world coming from you.
Exactly. Thank you for putting this puzzle together, and beautifully expressing so much of what so many of us are experiencing. Thanks also for freeing me up a bit. I needed that.
I’m glad you felt freed up a bit, and thank you for reading it!
This is such a beautiful piece. I too have missed your posts, so thanks for reigniting your own fire!!!! Hopefully these enthusiastic responses will feed the flames!
All the comments and replies have been wonderful. Thank you for your kind words!
This is beautiful, Teresa!
Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate that.
Love seeing prayer flags! Love reading this!
Thanks so much, Julie!
Welcome back, I have missed your blogs. Perfect analogy!
Thanks, Mom! It’s good to be back.
Teresa, I share your worries and loved the glimpse into your time in Eagle River. The tears streamed for me in reading tonight, thanks for your clarity in writing if Alaska. Hugs!
Thank you Lani, for reading and commenting. I know you love Alaska and that part of your heart resides here. I’m glad I can help bridge that distance a little bit.
Writing OF Alaska
Teresa, your writing is so beautiful, and this is such an important thought to share as so many of us feel similar emotions. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful to read your words again.
Thank you, Jenny. It feels like we’re all just trying to figure out what to do. It’s good we’re in it together.
Wow Teresa- this was the perfect blog for me to read tonight- after coming in from a nippy dog walk and gazing at the same moon that everyone else on this planet is also gazing at. It might be a super moon- but wishing we had super humanity to go along with it. Your writing makes me feel not so alone in my thoughts- thank you. Please keep writing, and let’s all keep some prayer flags flying.
Thanks for reading and connecting, Sue. You said it so well, wishing we had super humanity to go with the moon. I’m thankful for you and for your kindness.