– simple thoughts & writings &c. by Elizabeth Heimbaugh –

Category: Journal

Un Viaggio in Italia

By the lake

This is the first real entry I’ve made since arriving in Italy over a month ago. It’s seven o’clock (or 19.00, as they would write it here) and I’m sitting by the lake, writing until it grows too dark to see, or until I get restless enough to hop on my bicycle and ride back home. I saw a boat on the lake—two men fishing. An occasional dog comes walking by, and there’s a full moon out tonight. (If crazy things begin to happen this week, we can blame it on the moon.) I’ve just come from Mass at the church near my apartment (the church is called Gradaro) and in a little bit I will prepare some dinner (maybe rice with vegetables and meat I bought from the farmers’ market—mercato contadino—in the town center). It’s a peaceful evening and I feel calm and content.

Since I’ve not been writing, there’s much to record and keep up with. But it’s overwhelming to think about getting it all down on paper! So I will just write what comes to mind, and take it slowly—piano, piano—bit by bit. Perhaps I will write one section at a time, accumulating several small entries over the next few days.

Read the rest of this entry »

Potted Plants and Reassurances against Insanity and Doubt

I haven’t been writing very much recently, but for the sake of posting something new, I combed through my (sparse) entries from the last few months and assembled a few excerpts hereEnjoy~


A few days ago, while I was sitting in the library studying for the MCAT, I observed a boy a little ways in the distance point to a potted tree and remark: “You know it’s real if it’s dying.”

What an interesting statement, I thought. Of course the boy was referring to the mottled trunk and the falling leaves of the tree, and proffering these markers as evidence that the plant was, indeed, not made of silk and plastic; but, without knowing it, the boy also happened to conjure a bit of Life Wisdom.

I didn’t think about the statement too much, only noticed that it had the ring of profundity and someone could make probably make something of it if they took the time to ponder it. I guess that’s the writer’s task, after all: to catch scraps of daily utterances that might have the gleam of truth in them, that retain the potential of something more elevated.



How does a person function when burdened by the awareness of the impossibility of the work that has been set to her? How does one stay sane in the midst of turmoil? Better to say, how does one stay sane in the midst of insanity? The answer, I suppose, is that a person must become bigger than the insanity, must expand her being until it swells in size, enough to contain all that threatens to overwhelm it—so that, in the end, one is not conquered, but one lives in harmony with the essence of that beloved Scripture observation: “And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”



The voices in your head are not at odds with the voice in your heart, although sometimes they are led astray. What really needs to be said will be said by the clear voice of truth when the time is right. The rest is just entertainment for the ride.



The rays of light are hitting your face with the kind of grace that’s only seen in moments of pure luck. There are people in the kitchen, drinking cans of soda and cups of coffee like it was time to die. Well, there can’t be any reason to worry after this. All the crazies have left your mind and now there’s a lot of empty space to sit and think. When you feel the pressures of life, how do you respond? With a hopeful look to the future, or a sorrowful disdain for the present? You are burdened by many cares which don’t even belong to you. Your soul is buried beneath layers of fear that have nothing to do with the real truth. This is what makes your life so troubled, so hard: you work from a habit of fear and all that fills you is on a path to bring you dread. Shake it off before the load becomes too much to bear.

When your heart is in pain, what can you do? You wish to cry, but the time is not right, there are too many faces around, too many bodies to avoid. But if your heart were free of pain—if it could finally be free and light—what would you do? How would you live? The love would come light and easy and there would be no hindrance of doubt to weigh it down.

You’re often afraid of leaving God behind—of not serving Him in the right way. But, child, the truth is more magnificent than that; it’s wider and it gives you room to breathe. The truth is that God cannot be separated from you, and your ways are intertwined with His own.

Then the sun comes out and you aren’t sure what to do. The voices in your head come dutifully and quick—they are chatty and have much to say. Maybe if you give them an outlet—give them their (daily) 15 minutes of fame—they’ll quiet down and go rest in the corner. Maybe they just need to be subdued by a quick acknowledgement and some reassurance that they will be heard.

Now the time is short and you are wearing a crown of roses in your hair. Did someone forget to tell you that you’re a beautiful girl? Well, the time is too short and can’t be wasted in worry. The truth is that you have nothing to fear—all is well in the way of the soul, and the outside world responds. Don’t believe me? Try this piece of advice: Close your eyes, count to ten, and see the face that appears to you in the dark. Go on, try it. I know there is much nonsense in the writing of this book, but there is much sense in it, also, and I’d hate to see you throw out the baby with the bathwater, for fear of losing your heart to fickle things.


Writing Process: Pep Talk

In case you’d like to get a behind-the-scenes look at how I sometimes have to persuade myself, very gently and kindly, to sit down and write something–here’s a transcript of one day’s writing work (a conversation, really). See how much encouragement I need and how happy I am with even a little progress? 

A leaf was falling from its tree when a little boy stopped and reached toward the sky.

The next sentence that occurs to me is the one I will begin with. All you need is a beginning and the rest will follow of its own accord. Just don’t run away too soon. Don’t worry, it’s not too scary if you just resign yourself to the circumstances and realize you’re not going to be getting out of this one, so you might as well throw in your whole soul and will.

The next step is to fashion yourself into the kind of author you’re meant to be. The way you go about doing this is simple enough: you search inside the deeper parts of yourself and find what kind of things are hanging out in that territory. Then you assemble your wits and make a fair assessment of the things you’ve observed there. For instance, if you’ve found lots of sadness and grief, you might want to remember that your writing will have a little seriousness to it, a little melancholy even when it’s lighthearted and playful. Or to take another example, let’s pretend that you have lots of childhood memories hanging about in that deep inner cavern of your psyche. Well, this means that you’re going to be a writer who has a special reverence for the things of youth, for an innocent attitude that takes joy in the simple things. Make sense? You see what I’m getting at, at least.

… [Your] voice is the product of something that’s been growing in you for a very long time. In fact, it has been growing in you since you were born, and it’s becoming ever more refined as you get older and practice a little more. You can plumb the depths of your heart and find what’s there for yourself, but in short, I think you’ll find plenty of nice things, including, chiefly, a desire to love and understand God, a desire to be united with the simple beauty of life, a playful creativity that rejoices in nonsense and fantastical wonderings, a commitment to beauty, and a desire to get to the real core, the real depth, the truth of things. Does that sound right? Indeed, child, your heart seeks to express its most fundamental feelings and experiences in ways that resonate with other people’s souls. You’re not in the business of impressing people with vain ideas; your desire is for the essence, the deeper meaning of things.

One of your biggest struggles as a writer is that you don’t stay to finish the work. I know it’s uncomfortable at times, but the greatest fruit will be yours to harvest when you stay with the work and see it through. You’re in danger of living your life in haphazard fits and starts. To prevent this, you must gently work with yourself to remain patient and persistent. It may seem difficult at first, but you’ll slowly get into the habit and the pleasure of working in an honest way will feed your soul and make you hunger for more of this fulfillment and daily ritual. Besides, you will touch more people this way, and their response will be heartening enough to keep you going along this path.

Let’s try a sample exercise, nothing too complicated.

This will be a writing activity in which you describe a person who has touched your life in some important way. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t be exhaustive here. We’re just going to focus on a few small details. We just want to catch a glimmer of this person: what their habits are like in a certain circumstance, what their eyes look like when you catch them looking at you.

OK, first we choose the person. It may be hard for you to write about –, since he carries a lot of emotional resonance for you. So let’s pick another person. Maybe —. We can try writing about — for just a few minutes. OK? Don’t worry, I’ll be here to guide you, just as I have been guiding you this whole time.

OK, let’s begin.

When the night fell and the apartment was getting quiet and hot, she stepped into her pajamas and curled up in bed. She was feeling a little unwell, more tired than usual, and her head was hurting. It wasn’t her time of the month, she was pretty sure of that. So what could it be? It was very hot in the apartment, and the windows didn’t let in much air, so it was going to be difficult to sleep. Yes, she was having trouble with her boyfriend, that’s true. He was acting a little childish again, a little taciturn. But that was nothing new. Things were getting better, on the whole, but the old itch for adventure, for seeing what else lay beyond, was impossible to ignore. So many decisions to make this year, so many possibilities and it would be hard to lay out the options in a way that could suggest an obvious choice. Her stomach was hurting a little now, too. She hadn’t felt hungry the last several days. Something was changing, but she wasn’t sure what. She took out her computer and read news stories in bed until the time for sleep came and brought her into one strange dream after another.  

See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?
Rest easy, you did a good job. A good night’s work!


Twenty-Five Life Lessons

The following list of “life lessons” escaped from me while I sat down to write today. They came spontaneously–I’m not sure I’d have written the same list if I’d tried to think about the matter “properly” and analytically–but I don’t think they’re half-bad, so I hope you’ll enjoy them. Please note that while I may agree with what’s stated here, I’m very far from implementing these suggestions in my own life. I guess there’s a rather large chasm sometimes between my ideals and the reality of how I’m actually living, acting, thinking. But ideals are useful and necessary, so without further delay, a handful of life lessons for you:

  1. Be careful not to think too much about things that are beyond your control. When you meddle, you make things hard on yourself and keep progress from happening.
  2. Be attentive to the inner voice. Everyone has one. It’s the voice of God dwelling in you and it contains all truth. This is one of the most essential habits you can cultivate—listening to your inner voice and accepting it as much as you can.
  3. Don’t buy into the story that you’re a victim to your circumstances. In fact, you are a free human being, and this freedom is the gift that makes you noble and gives you life. Choose freedom over fear as often as you can.
  4. Be a happy person by simplifying your life. Simplicity is one of the most essential elements of a good life. Simplicity in dress, simplicity in food, simplicity in habits, simplicity in mind, simplicity in heart, simplicity in faith. Don’t confuse “simple” with “simplistic”—the latter is cheap and ignorant, the former is beautiful and profound.
  5. If you want to know what your purpose in life is, then ask yourself: How can I love the most? What thing, what occupation, what habit of being will draw the most love out of my soul? If you move in the direction of love, you will find your way and end up where you’re supposed to be.
  6. Enjoy the sun. It makes you happy and warm and healthy and well. Don’t spend too much time inside, closeted away in front of a screen. It is good for the body to move and take fresh air on a regular basis.
  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is much better to be gentle and kind with yourself, as your body and your soul respond more favorably when treated with love. A habit of gentleness within becomes a habit of gentleness without, and it’s easier to treat others with kindness when you’ve been practicing on yourself each day. Remember, it takes strength to be gentle and kind.
  8. Read as much as you can. Read on the bus, while you walk, at breakfast, in bed, whenever you can catch a free moment of time. Don’t ignore others in your company if it’s impolite, but do sneak in as much reading as you can. Carry a book wherever you go—it keeps the boredom at bay. Also, be discerning in what you read. No sense in wasting valuable time on poorly written books. Remember, we grow by keeping company with the greats, not by fishing in the pond of mediocrity.
  9. It’s hard to let go, but if you remember that letting go is an act of freedom, and not an act of violence toward love, then you’ll be better positioned to move on. Let yourself be light, rather than encumbered by the habits and emotions that weigh you down. You can honor these experiences without clinging to them. Indeed, God wishes for you to be free, and love does not engender servitude, self-fracture, and distress.
  10. Being at odds with God is only going to keep you in despair. The longer you resist, the more turbulent your soul will be. Much better to accept the truth that God loves you in the best, most beautiful way—and have all else follow from this. No use being at war with a God who only wants good for you.
  11. If you think you’re imperfect—you are. But don’t spend too much time worrying over this fact of life. We’re all going to fall short in multiple ways—even the saints—and fretting over our imperfections takes up time and energy that could be put to better use.
  12. Love your parents and your family, for they are the very foundation of your being and the people closest to your heart and most responsible for your existence in this world.
  13. If you think you’d rather be someone else, think again. For you were made in precisely the right configuration for a purpose that’s yours and no one else’s. Compare and despair; the trick to finding peace is to accept yourself as you are—because that’s when you’re at your most beautiful and compelling and free.
  14. It’s not enough to wish for a happy ending; you must put your convictions to the test and stand behind them with every activity of your life. Don’t be wishy-washy in your beliefs; it’s OK (and even good) to have some uncertainties, but when you trust, trust as fully and whole-heartedly as you can. This is how miracles occur.
  15. Promote peace in the world by being an instrument of peace in your own soul. Develop peaceful habits—in the way you interact with the environment, in the thoughts you choose, in the way you deal with people and animals—and you will become a clean, pure instrument of grace.
  16. Pray every day. Don’t skip, but if you do, just begin again.
  17. Spend time alone, even if you’re an extrovert. You need a bit of silence and solitude to reconnect with the source of your being and to unclutter your mind from the accumulations of a noisy, busy world.
  18. Don’t forget to eat. Nourish your body with good, simple foods. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Don’t fall into the trap of a diet mentality, or of excluding entire categories of perfectly natural food on the unfounded pretext that they’re bad for you. Simplicity is key. Your body will come into balance in its own elegant way; use your intuition to guide your choices. Not every body is meant to be a size two; when you choose in favor of excessive thinness, you’re forsaking other attractive qualities like thick hair, dewy skin, a stable mood, good energy, and the ability to function at your peak. Think twice—which sounds like the happier combination to you?
  19. Don’t be afraid of showing love and looking vulnerable. These are your strengths, and people are brightened by them. Don’t trade them in for a harsher, more sensible set of values.
  20. What’s important in your life? Think long and hard about this from time to time. Then, orient your choices to favor these things. Do away with what is irrelevant and distracting, as much as you can. This life is meant to be lived fully, and when you burden yourself with unimportant—unessential—things, you make it harder to hear the pulse of meaning in your day-to-day existence.
  21. Be bold, don’t be a victim to fear! And support the more fearful ones among us by offering us a word of encouragement and a smile of trust when we look like we’re locked inside our prisons of doubt.
  22. Establish a routine for your life. Simple, dependable routines—daily, weekly, monthly, yearly—keep us in harmony with the cycles and rhythms of nature. Don’t overcomplicate; keep your habits meaningful and essential. Make sure to touch upon all the aspects that make up a person: mind, body, heart, soul. Don’t be so dogmatic in keeping to your routines that you become stiff and inflexible; but neither be so irregular that your life becomes scattered. Chaos is inevitable in life; having established routines makes you better prepared to handle it and keep it to a minimum.
  23. Be kind, be kind, be kind. Ask forgiveness when you’re not, then try the next time to be kind again.
  24. Show mercy, that you may receive mercy; forgive, that you may be forgiven. The measure in which you give to others is the measure in which it will be poured back onto you.
  25. Childlike wonder is everything! Defend it with your life!

All Souls’ Day

Lord, let me write—just what I’m thinking, no more, no less.

National Novel Writing Month began yesterday. I won’t write a novel—I don’t have one in me—but I will try to write more often. Perhaps a daily quota of words. Though I wrote nothing at all yesterday—so that’s not the most confident of starts.

Currently in the familiar state of panic. Oh joy, oh boy! I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to control the terrible anxiety despite my attempts to deep breathe, meditate, spend an hour in silent prayer, journal, take magnesium, tap using EFT, talk kindly to myself, exercise, eat well, etc etc etc. Trying to work at the library on a project, but very difficult to keep my head on. Just so riddled with nerves, for no apparent reason. Happens day after day—enough! Too hard to function this way. Shouldn’t I be a calm and peaceful person? By all means, I should be—but look, here’s this hell again. My legs are intertwined, one wrapped all around the other—for some reason, the anxiety makes me want to curl and twist myself up into a contortionist’s ball. Or wear a straitjacket of sorts—not the terrible Halloweenish kind, but a thunder jacket—is that what they call it?—just something that would apply pressure to my body. Or perhaps be wrapped in a tight, tight hug. I find myself wishing for a boyfriend just so he could hug me tightly or hold my hand so the anxiety would dissipate thanks to the mechanics of simple touch. But I don’t have a boyfriend, and this is the wrong reason for seeking one; and there are those indeed who could hug me now, but I think I’d recoil at their touch, because I don’t like close embraces except with very rare exceptions. Almost makes me want to hunt down my old boyfriend—he’s the only one I had, so he’s the only candidate—so he could wrap me in a hug, but he wouldn’t do that anyway now, and besides that would be asking for a great big mess of trouble. Oh, well. Scrambled thoughts borne of a scrambled mind—not to be trusted, of course.

What can I write? What did I observe today? A woman waiting at the bus stop with me, talking to another girl. I sat on the edge of the parking lot and watched. The woman was large, with long gray unbrushed hair. She had on a gray jacket with white pants—some soft, lightweight fabric. Carrying a couple of plastic bags from the Walgreens next-door. What was she saying? Talking about a massage. She got a phone call saying she was going to be scheduled for a massage; she couldn’t wait. Her body was in pain all over, she said. She’d had a bad case of bed bugs at her place, so she’d spent a month sleeping in the bathtub, or on the toilet with her head on the counter, or on a hard chair. Her family was supposed to bring her another chair to sleep in, but they never did. How awful; how people suffer. And yet she seemed easygoing, seemed almost to take it in stride.

What else? Surely there were other things I wanted to put down in words. The thoughts are with me in my head—so present, so vocal—yet they seem to dart away when I try to write them down. Oh, well. An Adoration chapel opened at my favorite church downtown today after Mass. Spent an hour inside praying. Started to pull out my journal to write a story, just to make some attempt at working toward a quota of words. Story was fairly terrible, I think, but that’s OK; the purpose was just to get some words onto the page and activate a habit.

Today is All Souls’ Day. A day to remember the dead. In his homily, the priest talked about those who have taken their own lives in despair. Earlier this morning, I’d read an article on NPR about suicide prevention in Detroit. I’d scrolled down to the comments and read the first one there. It had been written by the father of a suicide victim—a 22-year-old girl who was incredibly bright and creative, a student at Yale. You could tell the father was bereft at the loss. He’d left his name with the comment, so I Googled it in order to find his daughter’s obituary. There was an online guest book, where people left remembrances of the deceased. Two years after her death, her father had visited the guest book and written: “If you were only here. You would have made the world an even better place. I miss you almost as much as I love you. You gave me SO much joy and happiness. I will never be able to repay you. Dad” How very, very sad. I started to cry, and now I’m starting to cry a little again. May our thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who have taken their lives, and let our prayers be with the souls of the departed. Wishing them a little lightness—and light—amid such sadness. God bless.

Sweater from an Old Friend


One day last week I decided to wear a sweater given to me by someone I care for a great deal. I hadn’t worn it in a long time, mostly because it’s big and warm and made of alpaca and wool, and the season hadn’t been right for putting it on. But it was a cool day—autumn is really here now—so I took the sweater out of my closet and pulled it on. Anyway, the person who bought me the sweater lives far away, and we’re seldom in touch these days, but he’s still very dear to me. So I felt I should wear the sweater with a sense of reverence—to handle it gently and acknowledge the memories and meanings that came attached to it. It wasn’t even a particularly sentimental day; it just seemed natural, almost a duty, to try, in some tiny way, to honor someone who meant something special to me.

That morning, as I sat praying in the chapel, I took off the sweater and lay it over my lap like a blanket. It made me feel protected, in a warm, nostalgic way, and reminded me of that tender feeling which people so often long for: the sense that you are important to another human being, that you are intimate with a person in a manner that ennobles your heart and makes you feel like you’ve been allowed to share in a precious secret. Even when your time with this person has faded into memory, the love remains in your heart and you are glad—while at the same time you are (perhaps terribly) sad—that there once existed many affectionate moments between the two of you. Because of course this history of love, this recalled fact of shared experience and endearment, is something that can’t be stripped away.

Anne Lamott wrote something on the subject that stirred my emotions. She was talking about people “being alive in our hearts” and as an aside, she said, “—and maybe this is the only way we ever really have anyone.” It’s a touching and poignant thought. And somehow also a comforting one, since there is safety in knowing that the love in our hearts can’t be taken away, no matter what the other person—the object of our affections—does or says or feels about us in the privacy of his own soul, and no matter where he lives, or what he’s doing with his life these days. Naturally, it’s nice to think that the person you loved will continue loving you, too. And it’s heartbreaking to consider the reverse. But luckily, if you’ve found a quality person to love, you can safely assume that you will always have a treasured place in his or her (inner) life. Because these quality people know that, once you care, you always care, even if in different ways; and to them, what has once entered the heart is sacrosanct and will always be guaranteed a home there. They understand that the nature of love is to persist and grow (even if, again, in unexpected or subtle ways), not to be axed off at the root and stunted or thrown to the fire to burn into ashes. At least that’s what I believe.

That’s not to say that it’s always a pleasant experience to witness the changing shapes of love. There are moments when you will badly wish for love to look a certain way, when in fact life wills it to take another form. How do you reach a place of greater acceptance in these moments? I’m not the expert on such matters, but I suppose some tried-and-true remedies include patience, breathing, and surrender. It also makes sense to avoid dwelling on your painful thoughts too long, or in too much detail, because then you will start to feel nauseated and unhappy. But if you can come to a basic acceptance of the general facts, and realize that the rest is not your business to worry about, then you might be able to redirect your attention, send your love, and move forward with what you’re supposed to do. And if you find that the sweater becomes a little too warm or a little too scratchy to wear, then take it off—lovingly, of course—and return it to the closet whence it came.


Feeling unwell and dimmed, like someone put their hand to the switch of my life-bulb and turned the power way down to a faint, flat flicker of illumination. Why do these feelings come and go so unpredictably? Felt well and happy and energetic yesterday. Too much of this pattern: flatlining, with low spirits, depressed mood, failing vigor, slow mind, sore muscles, trouble breathing, etc etc. I’m not very much fun to be around, I know as much. Not much seems to matter right now. Even the most disturbing thoughts are being accepted with a resigned shrug and too much tiredness to get worried about them. Spent all day working—that’s supposed to be a good and admirable thing, but I find it soul-dimming. What’s the point of work when it feels meaningless? Tired of trying to conform to ideas of what is proper and right. Too much work. Should be done with the heart. But heart is feeling overwhelmed by body. Don’t feel sorry for me, even though I have a habit of wanting other people’s pity. Just writing for the sake of getting something down. Don’t be troubled; it’s merely a journal entry, and doubtless many a journal entry has revealed far worse than this. I often think I’m wasting my life in trivialities. How can I be good company to anyone? People must find me increasingly boring, as the world moves on and people keep up to speed and fill their minds with new and challenging thoughts, but here I am, hanging behind, spending hours in “contemplation” (a misuse of the word) of fluff. Not reading, not studying, not skydiving or having adventures, but watching videos of singing competitions and worrying about health and appearances. Who wants to take a share in that? Worried that I’m boring to people, and uninspiring, but on the other hand, halfway giving up the impulse to care what other people think. Might as well just be who I’m going to be, even though that means lots of introverted habits. Feeling sorry that I don’t love nearly enough, that I don’t show love like I want or ought to. Weighs on my mind a lot. So much fear getting in the way. What a shadow of life. What am I doing? Where’s the noble person I aspired to be? Mediocrity abounds. Too much standing in the way of being fully alive. What good does the writing do? Not much, perhaps, but it’s something, at least. Apologies to those who read this; please don’t be concerned. Just rattling off my thoughts this evening. How can the world bear more inertia? Where are the people on fire with life? Sometimes it’s a comfort to find others with messed-up lives and imperfect thoughts—makes me feel less at fault, less of an exception, less crazy even. Not much else to record tonight. Perhaps a meditation on taking people for granted? Not tonight. Let’s be cheery for a while, or rest. Have a snack or a mug of hot water with lemon (my favorite)? Gather a few lines from previous entries, which might uplift or inspire (see below)? Quiet night and the crickets are chirping outside. That’s all.

How can the swallow make a woman cry?
By reminding her of how sweet it is to love someone more than life.

When I found you, you were asleep under the linden tree. Your skin was soft and warm, and you were dressed in baggy trousers and a hunting cap. How could I forget the sweetness of your face as you slept?

Break open the Russian dolls—
I have found truth
Buried in the center of things.

The Writer’s Anxiety

It is hard to sit still when the expectation of writing is upon you. The moment you arrive at your chair, pen in hand or fingers at keyboard, is precisely the moment you become the most fidgety person alive—no matter that, in general, you’re a person much inclined to slowness and rest. How to describe the feeling? A great unease, a sense of being bound to your seat by some invisible hand that makes you shift all the more wildly, a wish to be anywhere besides this terrible writing table. Then what happens? Aware that you can’t make a proper escape (well, you can, but you know where that leads you—to the uncomfortable place where you end up being a writer who happens not to write), you try to master the art of small escapes, invisible digressions that take you away, at least in thought, from the thing that’s being asked of you. So you reread what you’ve written the day before, or the year before: once, twice, ten times over. Or you check the time from the clock in the corner, minute by minute. Or you start wondering whether you shouldn’t really be doing the dishes right now. Such anxiety in being where you are! It seems so unnecessary, needless, avoidable. An avoidable avoidance—quite simple, but yet the pattern continues time after time. Why?

One factor, I think, is the great sense of responsibility that permeates the writing process. A person who writes wishes to sit down and capture her thoughts exactly as they occur to her, to record them in a way that makes sense to someone who knows nothing of her mind except what she lets slip through the words she speaks or writes. But thoughts are squirmy, intricate, and fast-footed creatures which elude capture more deftly than the best of criminals; so any attempt to scoop them up in your net and arrange them neatly, one by one, into your essay, will always be colored by some amount of failure. How can the contents of the mind be perfectly transmitted to someone who lives separate and apart, in his own realm of understanding and imagination? It is a difficult task. Stream-of-consciousness may come close to replicating thoughts in real time, but the chaos and disorder of such prose often fails to satisfy; one is easily tired by reading such jumbled narratives and lost by the lack of context. There must be some unity, some structure, to give the reader (and the writer) a pleasing sensation of fullness. You can readily detect the difference between sitting down to a wholesome meal—well-cooked, nicely served, and shared among friends—and standing all night near the hors-d’œuvre table, reaching over and picking at random bits of cracker and cheese. Not that there isn’t a place in one’s life for grazing (indeed, I am quite fond of my little afternoon snacks); but the body can’t be nourished on a daily diet of mere odds and ends.

But take comfort, dear heart—even the great writers struggled with themselves to stay put. Yes, even they felt the anxious rush of being unequal to their task, charged with the fear of needing to put down in perfect fullness the traces of their thoughts, the echoes of their inner chambers of reason and passion. It is fine that, at first, your thoughts are scattered in a hundred directions. What’s needed is simply to put the words—any words—on the page, and then return to them in a more level-headed state of mind, from which you can cull the similarities and arrange them into a sensible message, more streamlined and precise. It is often easier to edit and refine; the monster of fear is at his worst when faced with a blank page, in the absence of material to work with. If you stay with the discomfort a while, it will fade; just give it enough time. As your habit of writing deepens and becomes a dependable daily routine, the interval of time from scattershot to focused will shrink, and the ritual will become more familiar, easier to slip into and out of at will.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in other areas of your life. For me, the act of prayer offers a simple analogy. Sometimes I’m still reluctant to get around to praying—there may be some mental or practical obstacle to beginning—but the activity is usually easy and free and rewarding soon after the initial effort has been made. It has become, over time, a habit of being, an unconscious state of heart. I suspect that the act of writing, if undertaken consistently, follows a similar course and leads to similar ends. A person who keeps praying becomes, by the operation of grace, a person of faith. (Or is it, rather, that a person of faith becomes a person who prays? Which comes first is a tricky question to sort out.) Likewise, a person who keeps writing becomes, by the discipline and magic of her craft, a writer. (Or is she perhaps a writer even before she begins to write; and it’s merely that she can escape her vocation no longer, so she starts putting pen to page?) Whatever the underlying mechanics, the fact remains that there is a choice to be made—you will sit down to do the thing your soul is calling out for you to do, or you will walk away and leave the work for another day. The good news is that, each time you choose in favor of your soul, the natural energy and inspiration of your calling will meet you halfway. When you offer what you can (your time, your energy, your presence), the other intangibles will be supplied to you. And any time you refuse to give counsel to your fears and procrastinations is, in my opinion, a moment of pure, sweet victory.

Now, some of you may be among the lucky few who have no fear at all when sitting down to write. Such fortunate souls should feel free to forget the half-baked wisdom borne from those crazy bouts of panic from which they’re spared—and rejoice in the fact that they haven’t embarrassed themselves mixing metaphors of prayer and food to explain the whole messy and unsettling affair.


There is something so nice about sitting at a desk (or lying in a bed) in the light of a small, warm lamp as the sky outside the window turns to dusk and the rest of the room has become so quiet and dark and still. It is a remarkably cozy and comforting and familiar feeling, and I wouldn’t want to give it up for anything.

How does one go about integrating all the thoughts that are impressed upon the mind? It is a challenging feat, for this writer at least, and I can only offer a brief analogy to begin dealing with my opinions on the subject.

The comparison I am referring to is between the mental act of understanding and the physical work of digestion. Just as the body must consume some food, and break it down through a variety of processes, then absorb and assimilate the nutrients (this is the key part), or else it will fall ill and deteriorate—so too must the mind ingest some morsel of knowledge, dismantle it into smaller and more fundamental pieces, then integrate everything into the very anatomy of thought, lest the mind be overwhelmed with substance it cannot use. A chaos of ideas that slips through, in and out, without taking the time to be absorbed, to enter into the bloodstream of consciousness—this is the malabsorption of thought, which results in a feeling of lack, a feeling of hunger. The mind must digest ideas, as the body must digest food. The reason is that integration—which marks a shift from being fractured to being whole—is an essential ingredient of our vitality, and a necessary condition for our living as persons of integrity (from the Latin integer, “whole”). Without this ability, we walk around in a state of being various—a very disorienting habit of being, in which good things continually pass us by and even enter in, but their value is lost on us, and we keep feeling like hungry and unsatisfied creatures who just wish someone would come along and seal us up and stop the goodness from getting away.

It doesn’t need to be said how uncomfortable it is when someone you care about doubts your love. Of course you care! How can a person, once he enters your heart, ever become someone for whom you feel nothing? But what can you do? You can’t always inspire a change of heart. You can’t always take on the work for yourself. You must just pray and hope that the person realizes the truth at the center of things and lets all the rest—which causes him so much unnecessary suffering—fall away.

Healing Your Identity

Here is a thought for you:

When you are so entrenched in your own thoughts, and particularly when then these thoughts tend toward yourself, you miss out on the goodness around you and forget to live.

One day, in the apple orchard, the ant approached the daisy and said: Daisy, you look happy and pleasant no matter what is going on around you. What is the secret to your poise?

The daisy smiled and said: Ant, it is no secret. You see, the only thing I do is to realize that the sky is blue and the grass is green and it makes me very happy and well.

If you could be another person, who would you be? This question is asked frequently in the meetings of strangers and the confidings of friends. It’s a revealing question, for it uncovers the priorities in a person’s heart. When all is said and done, people will choose to embody that which they most esteem—whether it be a matter of finance or virtue or beauty. But when the question is laid plain, the faults of the proposition come to be seen. If a person is asked to forsake his identity, only to replace it with someone else’s, the issue is not, “what does this person esteem?,” but rather, “how can this person learn to love his self as much as any other identity that is possible for him?” When we shift our thinking to this line of reasoning, we find that the faults in our character are easier and better to accept than a whole new identity that is foreign to us. How would we contend with the disconnect? You can never be sure how to inhabit someone else’s mind, someone else’s body. It will always be a mismatched experience; there will be a sense that something is missing, something is not right.

This is the beginning of wisdom, that you will call your GOD by name and He will answer you in love.

Of all the people in your life whom you seek to please, none is so intractably fond of you as GOD. He is delighted in your ways and wants to show you how much He loves you every moment of your life. There is no separation from His love.