I’m calling this Part 1 because I suspect I will want to write more about this subject in future blog posts.
I’m very happy to be back to being a writer. I love the creativity and discipline of it. Words and phrases and ideas come into my head and stay a while. I daydream, and at some point, I sit with a lap top (or a yellow pad and pencil) and away it flows.
I don’t know how I went so many years without writing publicly.
It’s all very different now.
In the olden days, when I became a journalist in the early 1980s, we would submit an article or a proposal to an editor of an established publication and, basically, beg them to publish it. (Or, once we were well known, an editor might do the begging.) Editors and publishers, even in the alternative press, were the gatekeepers. They got to say who did and did not get published. They had the means of production, and the readers already lined up.
Now anyone can write just about anything and put it on the internet. Will the writing be honed into something coherent and concise? Will anyone want to read it? The questions are different now.
There are probably more people writing these days, and that’s a good thing. And now there’s so much available to read, that we each can barely scratch the surface.
Writing has many purposes, for oneself and others.
In the late 1970s, I became a human rights activist regarding Latin America, and by the early 1980s, many of us, worldwide, coalesced into “solidarity movements” to support anti-dictatorial forces in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
I started writing as a Central America activist. Because I had gone to college in southern California during the heyday of the “Jesus freak” movement, I knew about evangelicalism. I was watching as it morphed from “just” a religious phenomenon into a burgeoning political force. I started writing about the role of the Christian Right in the bipartisan-backed wars of the Reagan era.
Very quickly, I got published in lots of places, including the Oakland Tribune, which was then an independent newspaper with an intellectually curious editor at the helm of the op-ed page.
Soon my project snowballed into a full-time job monitoring, writing and speaking in lots of places about all aspects of the Christian Right. I attended right-wing events all over the country, tape recorder in hand, along with a few colleagues. (One time, in 1986, we crashed a Pat Robertson for President party and I got him boasting on tape about his role in covert operations.) We did our best to alert the mainstream press and the general public to the growing clout of the Christian Right.
Our efforts were largely futile. By the time the first of my four books was published in 1989, I realized that a handful of activists on the left could not stop the rising power of the right wing of the Republican Party. The reasons are complex and a long story, to be told some other time. I started writing my work as history and sociological theory, to help future readers understand how our country became what it is today.
I wrote my heart out about right-wing movements in the 1980s and 1990s. I loved the writing part but not the continued struggle to have the subject taken seriously.
After 15 years of working to stop the Right, I had by then returned to the Sufi practices of my late teens and early 20s, and I had begun work on a new type of book.
The publishing world is enamored with famous spiritual teachers, (Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron et al.) I wanted to write about unknown spiritual devotees leading ordinary lives. I conducted ten in-depth pilot interviews with acquaintances who were long-time practitioners of sufism, zen, yoga and shamanism. We discussed their early childhood influences, the spiritual counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and how they now integrated their practices in daily life.
I wrote a book proposal and sent it to literary agents. One agent encouraged me to reframe my interviews and write about how spiritual practice enables people to weather tragedy and grief.
I liked her idea but I couldn’t pursue her suggestions because my own life was then imploding in an acrimonious divorce. (How’s that for irony?)
I put the book proposal aside, went to law school and focused on building a business.
That is, to make a living, I gave up doing work I really love, which is research and writing.
Years later, I have an established business and I still want to be a writer.
I kept the proposal, and from time to time, I think about writing the book suggested to me by that agent so long ago. Only now, I’m one of those people who has survived and weathered some major crises, largely through the power of spiritual practice.
Writing, as I said, has many purposes.
For one, it is therapeutic. That’s why, throughout my years away from public writing, I continued to write journal notes and short memoir pieces. Writing allows me to learn what I think and feel. I am doing that now with this blog.
Writing is communicating. Its ends are to inform, maybe to motivate or provoke, maybe to reveal and explain, maybe to inspire and comfort.
I feel a new passion about writing to share what I’m learning about health and cancer. I’d like people who haven’t had cancer (yet) to understand what it’s about, how it feels, for example, when someone who has no idea what they’re talking about tells you it’s a “gift,” and, in the same breath, that you brought it on yourself. I want to add to the many bloggers who are deconstructing pink ribbon ideology, which trivializes breast cancer and even misdirects attention away from the most deadly forms of the disease.
There is so much to think about and to do. Writing is one way to make sense of it.