An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 4:59pm
Photo by Chris Ford

An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life

For me, writing is a miraculous process. It's as miraculous as Spring itself, when buds arise from frozen ground and greenery leafs out from wood that's hard and unyielding.

For 50 years I've been writing almost daily. I'm driven not by expertise but by my own bafflement about many things — some of them "in here" and some of them "out there." Every time I write, I'm surprised by what I discover about myself and/or the world.

So I no longer wait until I have a clear idea to start putting words on the page. If I did, I'd never write a word! I simply start writing, trusting that the writing itself will help me dig into my bafflement, uncover what I already know, and point me toward what I need to learn next.

And if tomorrow I find out that I got it wrong, I know that none of my words will go to waste. Instead, they become compost for the next round of new growth.

Here's a poem that reflects my experience of the writing life. I offer it partly as an encouragement to those who write for any reason, personal or professional. Trust the process!

I offer it also as an encouragement for Spring to arrive ASAP! As they say, we are so, like, done with winter in Madison, Wisconsin! Totally...

The World Once Green Again

That tree from its dense wooden trunk
surprises into leaf
as my tight-fibered heart leafs out
in unexpected speech.

I know that trunk, so thick, so slow,
its heartwood core so like my own.
Yet here I celebrate that we
can take leave of our density
to dance the wind and sing the sun.

Our words, like leaves, in season spring
and then in season fall,
but at their rise they prove a power
that gentle conquers all.

As shriveled leaves return to earth
to nourish roots of leaves unstrung,
so dry words fall back to the heart
to decompose into their parts
and feed the roots of worlds unsung.

And when speech fails, the dark trunk stands
'til most surprising spring
wells up the voice that ever speaks
the world once green again.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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Your thoughts so echo mine about writing. Thank you for offering them and your writing.

Sounds good, good sense, sense change, stay true, thank you for sharing how and the now.

Thank you, Parker! This beautiful meditation is especially welcome on a day with new snow, colder temperatures and the beginnings of bronchial troubles in the midst of writing and editing for myself and others! The six things important for creative process that you once gifted me when we spoke included the "within and the without"; this poem led me through an experience of that as I read - kleenex in hand and lemon water at the ready. Take love for the journey in exchange. L Shores (now McCommon)

So excited for Parker Palmer's thoughts on writing and spring to become a weekly occurrence at On Being. Keep up the good work, Krista, Trent and team. I'm loving everything you do.

Also, didn't know that Palmer lives in Madison - home of my alma mater!

T love the Wallace Stevens poem The Snowman. '
'One must have the mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine trees crusted with snow;

Thank you for these inspiring words. I love the use of "surprises" as a verb. Beautiful!

Wonderful! Everyday I scribble something down on a piece of paper or notebook! Inevitably it gets lost in the shuffle of life!

Parker thank you for your wisdom, for just being there and telling us to trust the process. A few years ago you sent me your ms of Healing the Heart of Democracy. It came during a very dark time. I've never forgotten that kindness, the cup of cold water. I refer to it often. Because this said "add your reflection" I'm going to be bold and add what I wrote "Snow Melt and Blessing"

I was led from musing about convincement and writing about t, to open my email where your encouragement appeared and for me if helped fill my pages on this the first of spring. Thank you

Hi Parker,
You are referred to here as a Quaker elder...Is that like an elder in a church?
I've heard of the term "weighty friend" and knew Canby Jones,so I was really aware of what a "weighty" friend was. I'm sure you are that as well.
Will you come to his service here in Wilmington, Ohio April 5. he was 92 years young.

Parker Palmer"s "The World Once Green Again," besides being beautifully crafted, deserves close attention as it cleverly links the life cycle of the tree to that of language . . . the one nourishing the earth, the other the heart . . . both "dancing" in the wind, both nourished by their sources, both quietly stating the truth of connections circular and perpetual -- cycles that, when deeply understood, contain within themselves great joy and beauty. Splendid!

Once several years ago, during a dark, stressful and lonely time in my life, I began writing as a outlet to my confused thoughts on what to do next. I kept searching and peeling layers of truth away in the pages, and reached a point of such raw emotions and revelations, that I stopped and destroyed the words and ran away from it, thereby missing an opportunity.
I am now inspired to delve into my inner truths again, and this time with the courage to allow it to make a positive difference in my life.

The Shenandoah National Park is a thin place for me. During my busy working life when all my energy was gone, a chance to walk in the forest always brought me to a place of total peace. I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and live now in Annapolis, MD near the Bay but far from my heart's love - mountains and solitude and quiet and thinness. Thank God for times when I can go back to be renewed.

So timely for me on this overcast Spring morning as I mine the depths of my grief.

Always a champion of the soul, thanks again, for evoking, nurturing and defending its tender and tenacious life. Bless You!

I had to share your words on my Facebook page with writer friends who let a blank page intimidate them, me included! We all must start somewhere. I too, am very done with winter, one of Maine's colder and snowier winters. And it snows as I sit here commenting about it!!!!!

That is so lovely. The middle verses are my favorite, the part about "gentle conquers all." Thank you.

I have been reading most of Parker Palmer's books and cherish his thoughts, wisdom, and advice.
What a gift to get to hear from him on a weekly basis henceforth! My deep appreciation to ALL involved in making "On Being"
possible at such a high standard.

So amazed at the power of writing without reservation or hesitation. Thanks Parker Palmer for expressing with clarity this message and its importance. Writing often feels to me as if it has an energy and speed all its own. We are off to the races. Letting the words trip across the page, taking us to a new land or place, destination typically unknown: careening around corners; jumping out of airplanes; yodeling from mountaintops; riding uphill on a San Francisco cable car. The world is our oyster, anyplace is possible. Whatever our mind can envision or unfold, releasing what may be stored deep within, just waiting for a moment such as this to show itself. Letting us go along for the ride. Delving into fantasy to delight or reveal. To expand the land of possibilities which we live within. Helping us to understand more about ourselves or those in our midst. The fantastical as possibly a place of escape or explanation. Knowing whatever way we group the words, we are creating an imagery unique within itself. Not having combined in such a way before. The pleasure of this creative adventure.

Thank you, like a sailor lost at sea, I had entered the doldrums, your words were a rising current of air that filled my sails, I'm now heading for anywhere in the word

I look forward to Wednesdays and reading Parker's wisdom. I know in my core of the grace to be found in writing. During the most difficult time of my life, as I struggled with my aging parents' care needs, I made a promise to God to write something everyday. That promise to write extended into three years and became my map of struggle, growth, transformation and most importantly my map to forgiveness. I eventually summarized that incredible journey in my memoir, "God Never Hurries." I have returned to the guidance writing provides me and have just finished my first year of a pithy weekly blog titled "What if... God Never Hurries" where I reflect on the grace in my week and end with a "What if..." question for the reader to ponder.

Each day, almost each moment of each day, I discover and uncover more. And my latest joy is to have 'stumbled' - I'm happy to stumble if that's the way - across Parker Palmer. Why does the name remind me of The Life of Pi?! You are magic with words, ideas, imagination, and I thank you so much for becoming my latest teacher. I will always open, and learn, hopefully respond and live with more kindness and love as many moments as I can.
Thank you so much!