I've been thinking a lot about work lately. And, no, I don't mean specifically my job. I mean thinking about the idea of work; the concept of work and the role that it plays in everyday life. Lately I've been reading books about working and watching movies about working. Today as I was riding the bus home I was reading a particular book when I came across a sentence that made me stop and think.
When we can play at our work seriously, the way children do when they are totally devoted to building a sand castle or playing hide and seek, a save haven opens up within us, a kind of freedom.
I stopped and thought about whether there were times when my work felt like "play," and to be honest, given the kind of work I'm doing now, there are a lot of moments when it feels just like "play." I spend a fair amount of time at work doing two things I have to admit I love: reading and writing. Plus there's the added bonus that my work involves connecting with people through writing, something else that excites me.
As the bus approached my stop, I realized that in the past few months something has changed about the way I look at myself and my life. The evidence is in the fact that I'm doing something these days that I often hesitated to do in the past. These days I call myself a writer. Until now, other people had called me writer, but I'd resisted applying the term to myself. When I asked myself why, the only honest answer was that for a long time I didn't think I deserved to call myself a writer.
What changed? It's hard to pinpoint. I guess it started a few months ago, around the time I spotted another book, bearing a title identical to the question I was asking myself a the time. That lead to other books on the same subject matter. (I should add here that reading — and the learning that goes hand in hand with it — is another love of mine.) Reading, and thinking about what I was reading led me to recall the things that I'd always done and always loved. Writing, it turns out was always one of them.
Since I learned to hold a crayon, I don't remember a time when I wasn't writing. In the 8th grade I attempted to write a civil war novel. (I kid you not. The problem was I managed to sum up the entire war in about 8 chapters.) In high school it was poetry, mostly bad and (now) mostly lost. In college, it was more poetry, this time somewhat good; actually, good enough to get published in the university's student-run literary journal (along with one short story), a couple of local literary journals, and even one national literary journal. From there I turned to op-ed columns and entertainment writing for the university newspaper. Since then I've done similar writing for the local gay newspaper here in D.C., and my last couple of jobs have included a lot of writing. In fact, my previous boss referred to me as the department "wordsmith." No matter what period of my life I examine, writing is an integral part of. Take it away, and something of myself goes with it.
So how does writing feel like play to me? It's hard to describe, because writing is such a solitary and intimate act. Eventually it does involve others, but at the start it's me, the words, and the medium I'm using. There's a certain kind of excitement that I've always gotten from using languge well, from a phrase well turned, or words well chosen. And on a broader level, there's something satisfying about pulling together loose strands of ideas into a single, cogent, comprehensible piece. That level of satisfaction exists for me whether anyone reads what I've written or not, but another layer is added when something I've written is read and enjoyed by someone else, and maybe even moves then or changes them a little. Then it's no longer an entirely solitary act, but an act of connecting with others. Maybe that's just what I'm supposed to be doing. So, I'm a writer.
Looking at it that way, it's no wonder I took to blogging the way that I have. It encompasses all of the above for me in a way that little else does. Before, I thought that calling myself a writer meant that I had to have at least one book to my credit, or a huge stack of clippings. Now I just feel that if I'm writing and using my writing to reach out to, connect with and move others, then at the very least I'm on the right track. And if it happens that the above is also part of how I earn a living, that's the icing on the cake. In fact, it's almost like eating my cake and having it too.