This morning, at breakfast, I was gifted a very very wise piece of advice passed from Louise B. Halfe through David Carpenter (Carp).
On learning that he called his manuscript “the thing” and had it shoved in a drawer…afraid of it…overwhelmed by it… she advised him to never mistreat or diminish his work like that. She told him that she offers tobacco for/to/with her manuscript. That by doing so, she honours it. Not just the words on the page, but everything that has gone into the work.
She told him that we must honour our work.
He wasn’t sure how to proceed. How to honour his work. Could he set out tobacco too? “But I’m white,” he said.
She said, “You don’t have to be Native to honour your work.”
So Dave did what Louise suggested. He sprinkled tobacco all over his manuscript, as a way to honour it. He left it in that drawer for a while longer and when he pulled it out to work on it, things came together, made sense in a way he had not seen before.
When he told Louise what he had done—sprinkling the tobacco all over the manuscript, she looked appalled.
“Oh no,” he thought. “I’ve done it all wrong. I’ve CURSED my manuscript or disrespected an ancient rite.”
Louise said, “You poured tobacco all over it? But that would make such a MESS! I just put the whole pouch of tobacco in with the manuscript.”
We laughed, but as Carp told this story, I got shivers up the body… A huge YES!—bringing this story into my heart.
I, too, often (and too often) call this manuscript “the Thing”… I must make this shift. Towards honouring it.
I grow more and more conscious of the fact that am weaving this story (and all my stories) along with the Creator. How can I then … dismiss… judge…wound and degrade this work?
Back in my room, I sit and contemplate this story. The wee voice inside begins to speak to me.
Not to build it up – but do you not think that this is your sacred work?
And why do you think that, to speak of the work this way is “building it up” into some snobby/elitist thing? It isn’t. It is a simple acknowledgement of what is.
I like that. I feel that is true. And yet, I am stunned by it as well. I turn away from the wee voice and begin to scribble, which is how I work things out for myself. I write…
It’s all well and good for really great writers like Mary Oliver to say this sort of thing but…me? That’s just kooky-banannas talk and horribly presumptuous.
And the voice comes back…
But we are not talking about you. About building your self up. We are talking about the work. This work (writing) is sacred. Right? And by “sacred”, I do not mean “precious” as in–oh my words are so precious. That isn’t it at all. What I mean is … this is holy work. This is prayer. This is incantation. This is hard, sacred, work.
I stop. I whisper, “Yes.” I hold this yes. I take it with me on my morning walk into town with a fellow writer.
Yes. I do think that writing–crafting stories, weaving poems–is sacred work. Yes.
I forget, sometimes, especially when I start to think, “Oh if only I could write something that would SELL!” moan moan panic moan “Then we could jack up the camp and re-insulate and… and… and…”
I forget why I do this. I get distracted.
I am grateful for these reminders, that come to me ever more frequently, about why I do what I do. Why I have built my life to allow me to do what I do.
A big part of this work, for me, is to keep the communication with the Creator open.
And what comes of this open channel—I must not disparage.
We must honour our Work.
Today… I will seek ways to make this shift—away from viewing this manuscript as a THiNG I am wrestling with, and towards… A gift I am being given. An invitation to work in concert with the Creator.
For now… there is this… a poem by Mary Oliver…
by Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever
And here is Mary, herself, reading I Happen to be Standing on NPR.
I so love her.
As I love Carp and Louise Halfe. You can find them and begin to trace the line to their works by following these links…
And…before I go back to work…and back to the thinking about the work I do and why I do it…
Here is Louise reading her poem Success in Spite of on BBC radio’s Poetry Postcard series.
Gives me shivers.
PS – Thanks, Carp, for sharing this story with us and allowing me to share it here. Apologies if I’ve mistold it at all. You tell it better, my friend. I am so honoured to be here at St Pete’s with you right now–listening to your tales and working alongside of you. Thank you.
Also… I am ENTIRELY looking forward to our banjo sing along this evening!
Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over