The Cowpatch

Rumen-ations from the Southwest

Same Dough, Different Oven


Why You Should Write

Everyone on earth is unique.  A Yiddish proverb has it in a nutshell. “We are all kneaded from the same dough, but not baked in the same oven.” In other words, we are unique through experience.  Identical twins may be genetically the same, but in their lifetime, they will not have the same experiences.

Everyone has the seeds of creativity.  After all, being creative is just thinking something no one else has ever thought or doing something in a way that no one else ever has before, maybe something physical that can be passed on to future generations.  Maybe not.   I have a box my grandfather carved for my grandmother. There are less roughly-carved boxes made of better materials, but there is only one box like this one.  I have a recording of Mama playing the piano and a tattered and worn quilt my Grandma made.  And a black ash basket made by the Sprague family, who were Potawatomi.  Each of these things expresses something unique about their maker.

Just as unique are the intangibles, and that’s where writing and art come in.  Grandpa Gus’s shenanigans and jokes at the dinner table were the delight of my childhood.  In his case, I am the kin keeper, telling the story of this unique European immigrant with a strange accent in my writing.

Not everyone will become a professional artist or writer, i.e., write or paint for a living, but there are many reasons to write that have nothing to do with fame or fortune. Here are a few:

Write to heal. Writing can help you heal from emotional wounds. You don’t have to share this writing with anyone.  Putting something down on paper can sometimes help you stop picking at your emotional scabs.  Of course, you can share your experience if it feels right.  Two people I know have published their stories after decades of secrecy and silence.  The telling of those stories not only healed them, but helped many strangers heal as well. These books were not bestsellers. They only sold a few dozen copies, but they gave courage and hope to those who read them.

Write to find answers. Got a problem?  Grab a pen, and the minute your feet hit the floor in the morning, get those questions and anxieties down on paper before your pesky, controlling conscious mind is awake enough to censor.  Write as fast as you can in stream-of-consciousness mode.  Give it ten minutes; give it twenty.  Just get it down.  It’s surprising how effective this can be in getting your “anxiety mind” to shut up.  Even more astonishing is how often a creative solution will zing you out of the blue later in the day.  You’ve just given your subconscious an assignment for the day, and now it will work away in the background while you go about your daily tasks.

Write to change your mental set point. It’s  easy to get into repetitive thought patterns that can be limiting and self-destructive.  Negative thoughts are like a nuclear reactor that melts down from overheating, destroying itself and everything around it. One way to break the chain reaction, is to personify that demon of negativity. Draw a picture of it. Write a description. Does it have thorns? Horns? Is it allergic to spinach?  Write a fairy tale in which that creature shrinks and shrinks and vanishes.  Now when you feel it sneaking back, just visible in your peripheral vision, you’ve got its name, like Rumpelstiltskin, and you can yell at it.  You can scold it and gloat that it no longer has power because you’ve taken that power away.

Another way to change your mindset it to write down, at the end of every day, three good things that happened. They can be the tiniest of events, but over time you will notice more and more good things.  Don’t focus on the tons of things that went wrong during the day.  What happened that was pleasant?  Sitting outside with your tea or coffee, you might have noticed a beautiful cloud or the song of a favorite bird.  You might appreciate the flavor of something you ate that day.  As you see the positive effect on yourself,  you might find you want to do the same for others.  You notice that the teller at the bank is wearing some nice earrings.  The more you notice, the more you see.  So you tell her you like her earrings.  You acknowledge her humanity.  You find that giving another person something good to write down at the end of their day will make you happier.

Write to record your personal story.  Let future generations know what your life was like, what made you laugh, what made you cry, what made you mad. What products did you use that no longer exist? Did you experience any natural disasters? A flood, an earthquake, a tornado? Share your wisdom and your worries. Don’t have any relatives? It doesn’t matter.

A childless man of my acquaintance, unrelated by blood, started writing to me after his wife died.  He had been very quiet when she was alive, not because she tried to be the center of attention, but because she was brilliant, very outgoing, and eloquent.  I had no idea of the depth of Danny’s interests or his knowledge until we started corresponding.  He wrote about classes he was taking, about places he’d visited, about people he’d met.  And he wrote poetry, very funny poetry.  He even won a poetry competition.  He was nearly eighty when he started writing.  I’ve kept every one of his letters for my kids.  It doesn’t matter that Danny never had children of his own.  He had me.

Write for fun.  Write stories.  Write to imagine a different world.  Write to express yourself.  My late friend Elizabeth wrote a short, very silly piece, a parody in which the lawyers were all rabbits.  Her husband was a published writer, and she had always been in his shadow.  Most of her energy had been spent protecting him from interruptions and dealing with a rare illness from which she’d suffered for many years.  On a lark, she submitted her rabbit piece to The Saturday Review, and it was published.  She had only been writing for fun, for herself, but after being published in what at the time was a major national magazine, she went on to write a wonderful children’s book before she passed away prematurely the following year.

Once you squelch your inner critic, your ideas will seed clouds of nourishing, creative rain. Just start writing. You’ve got the stories, fiction or non-fiction. And over time you’ll learn the technical skills to make your writing better

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