For our first class assignment, my first academic assignment in over five years, we are asked to bring three pages, three pages of exemplary work we admire, three pages of work that we are proud of, or three pages of work that we are struggling with. I chose the last, a struggle. The rest of the class clutches books by Dostoevsky, by Bernhard, by Walcott, by Sebald. Foolishly, wrongly, I assumed we would hand in our pages, silently. After the class shuffles in, young and old and somewhere between young and old, tired and carrying the weight of our days, some stooped slightly, others acutely, the instructor announces that we will take turns reading aloud the passage we selected. Trial by action. A toss into the pool.
When was it that I had last read aloud, before a group? Definitively, I recall a time, a Sunday morning, possibly late spring, in church, reading a passage from the New Testament before my congregation, my voice clear and steadfast, despite, even then, a wavering, a skepticism, questioning the rhetorical argument, questioning the philosophical and scientific validity of organized religion, the cultural impact of such dogma. Afterwards, the people gathered in a large hall, the foyer to the house of worship, swallowing cheap sugar cookies and sticky lemonade like communion, swapping gossip about the achievements and failures of their children, the illnesses of their parents. They grasped my hand, expressed their gratitude, their compliments. I enjoyed standing before them, reading to an audience, even though it was not my words. My father smiled.
Now, I must read three pages and pretend not to struggle through it. The pits of my arms grow warm, palpitate with a new dew, as though my heart has split, a large cell at the end of mitosis, and migrated to live, one chunk under each shoulder, in the cave crevice. I try to read slowly, deliberately, though, I cannot gauge from the stares of the others whether my pace is appropriate, my words compelling. Sentences seem too long. This is always my tendency, in spoken and written word, to effuse, to string clause upon clause like copious beads, to qualify, to intersect a sentence with a related tangent, an aside. I try to read deliberately. I try not to slice my tongue along the long length of clauses, of sentences, of pages of woven words. Some of the imagery, inked in my memory like a tattoo, still seem strong, to me, and I desperately pray that the class agrees, finds some truth or some beauty or some something in them.
When I finish, the instructor poses a question: why am I struggling with this piece? What am I struggling with? The question seems obvious, though, I do not answer this way: I struggle with all of my writing, always. When I write in my head, mentally, and when I take the dare to commit those words to paper, the struggle, the fear, tantalizing, persists.
(image taken from This Recording)