Other writers, religion, and inspiration

I was blocked on my column, so I went to be around other writers.

And it worked.

I wanted to write about faith– such a broad, yet personal, topic. I couldn’t focus. I felt nervous about being vulnerable in a newspaper column, which isn’t about feelings. It’s supposed to be about facts.

But as I sat in the audience at this poetry slam, the theme of religion was constant. I knew I was onto something.

I saw religious tattoos. One poet talked about how he had stopped praying after his mother died. Another joked that he was going to complain about his religion.

And I felt relief.

Religion is hard. There are all these rules telling us what to believe, how to live, dictating how we should feel about ourselves and others. And to follow any religion is a struggle. Why not complain about it? I appreciated that poet’s candor. That makes sense! It’s something we all have dealt with in our lives. We’ve all had to confront it!

Religion is about so much more than the divisiveness that repels so many people. It’s a culture in which you’re raised. It’s an identity, even if you no longer believe the dogma. It’s a lens through which you view the world, and measure yourself. It’s a community of others who want to believe. It’s something to make you angry. It’s something to help you grow. It’s a source of peace.

There were three featured performers at this poetry slam. And I spent $40 to buy one of each of their books, and a CD. One of the books was small, I was fascinated by it.

“It’s like a prayer book,” I said to the poet. “That’s the idea,” he said, smiling.

And I went home, and I knew just what to write.

I e-mailed it in, then went to bed. When I woke up, I called my editor to see if she got it.

She liked it, and said she had meant to e-mail me.

“I can tell you put a lot of work into it,” she said.

And I felt great.

I brought a poem to read, but arrived too late to sign up for the open mic. For the slam you need at least two, if not three– in case there’s a tie-breaker. I didn’t have time to print out that many, I was in a rush to get there after work.

One of the poets read it upon my request though, and that was great. He took it seriously– went off quietly by himself for a few minutes. When he returned, he had a few comments about it. I told him I’d never done the slam before. He said to go for it, and to e-mail him when I did. This was one of the featured performers.

Each one took time to write a personal message in their books that I bought. One of them gave up their chair for me. All were down-to-Earth, and encouraging about my own writing. Their humility inspired me. It makes me want to jump in and slam myself. To write more poems, something new to read next time.

My poetry is largely something I don’t intend to publish, at least not now. But I enjoy reading it aloud.  I love hearing the reaction of a crowd when I’m onstage, having a room quiet and focused as I read it. Or the intimacy of reading it to just one person, especially if they are willing to discuss it with me and enjoy literary analysis. Whether they can offer a simple opinion, constructive criticism or praise, I’m always just so happy that they wanted to listen and indulged me.

Writing is such a lonely occupation. Once in awhile, we need to recharge by connecting with another person about our work.

And those moments make it all worth it.

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