from Writing Wild By Tina Welling
Posted 3/12/14 | Updated 5/1/21
We are writers because we are drawn to language, to the music of sound, to story and the power of telling each other things we know. We experience the force of language when we write in our journals. The self grows and glows with the light of our attention. We expand, awaken, and become all we keep looking for in others. Words change us.
For our purpose of creating a relationship between our intimate selves and the natural world, language builds a bridge. It is the connector between mind and body, between ourselves and other forms of energy. Language offers clarity by means of labeling, defining, and sorting, which gives witness to our experience of life.
Our human partners use words as language to communicate and further their intimacy with us, but what language does nature use to uphold its end of the communication with us?
That language may be chance.
We think of chance as luck, fluke, fate, opportunity, happenstance, serendipity. Accidental events have brought all of us friends, life partners, jobs, and various good and bad experiences. For me, chance has operated all through my writing career as well as through the work itself.
It was a series of chance events, none of them following the usual path of an agent submitting to an editor, that led to my three novels being published by the Penguin Group, and each of those novels is filled with material encountered by chance, too — overheard conversations, light hitting willow wands just right, wild animal sightings.
As a part of raising our awareness, we need to honor chance events. Sometimes we call them mistakes. The poet William Stafford says that mistakes are “disguised reports from a country so real that no one has found it.”
In the children’s book Mistakes That Worked, the author Charlotte Foltz Jones relates that some of the special graces of our lives have come about by chance. Chocolate chip cookies, for example, and tea, Post-it notes, and Velcro were all mistakes. Penicillin was discovered by accident when a mold blew in the window and contaminated a bacteria experiment. Error may be a valid tap on the shoulder from the universal unconscious.
My friend Mary Alice is a weaver and says that her art has won prizes from mistakes. When Mary Alice spots an error, her heart sinks. Then she takes another look and recognizes that abruptly, through error or inadvertent action, she is positioned at a crossroads and has a whole new set of decisions to make. Prior to the mistake, she was moving along directed by a particular pattern and color design with her threads; now she has an opportunity to consider new directions. Mary Alice has learned after many years of weaving to be grateful for these offerings of possibility.
The Ojibwa deliberately place an odd bead in their jewelry to draw off any negativity that may have attached itself to their work from their own thoughts or feelings. They view this deliberate mistake as a release for locked energy.
We must feel this way about our stories. The memories and fantasies that are locked within us and that surface in our consciousness in the third step of a Spirit Walk cannot be dismissed. They arise by chance, triggered by a series of exchanges with nature. They belong to us.
Chance is a wonderful force in our lives. Yet how chance works is a mystery to us.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Creativity and Flow, states that the definition of chance events is “favorable convergences in time and place open to a brief window of opportunity for the person who, having the proper qualifications, happens to be in the right place and right time.”
So chance involves the convergence of three parts: the right time, the right place, and the right person. We usually don’t have control over the first two — time and place — but we can learn to be more often the right person, thereby giving chance a more open invitation to enter and create a favorable event. As writers, this helps us at every level of our creative process.
So how can we be the right person for chance to find?
I break the process down into three ways of being in the world: receptive, intentional, and actively engaged:
Being receptive means enjoying an open, curious relationship with the world around us. One in which we set aside opinions, expectations, even hopes and, as much as possible, fears. Invite a sense of wonder. Pay attention. Be ready for surprises. Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, calls this getting caught up in “the slipstream” of writing. He described it in an interview in Poets & Writers Magazine like this: “You get into a state where, even when you’re not writing, everything you see, read, hear, every place you go; every newspaper you pick up; every conversation you chance to overhear feeds the work.”
To be intentional is to have a goal in mind that is firm enough to guide us in the right direction, without being so rigid that we miss opportunities. At first, it may appear that this is contradictory to being receptive. And it’s true; we need to create a balance to be both receptive and intentional. Doing so demands mental and emotional agility. We want to be focused in order not to fall prey to distraction. Yet we also want to remain loose enough to incorporate any serendipitous happenings that arise.
We have dreams. Perhaps your dream is to become a better writer, a published writer, a writer who entertains or inform others, or a writer who comforts others. Dreams are vital. Dreams are the fire of our mental and emotional life. But those flames die out and become ash in no time unless we take action on them. We must be actively engaged in pursuing dreams. And we must make this engagement an exchange with life around us.
It’s like breathing, taking in and giving out.
When we are in our bodies, with an awareness of place and a sense of connectedness to life around us, we can trust what occurs to us and honor impulses. This is our very own material. We give it language for the same reason we put water into a container: in order to hold it, to use it for our lives. And to offer it as a gift to others.
Each of us experiences our own flow of chance. As people who wish to raise our awareness, we can begin honoring that. Pay attention to what comes your way. It isn’t coming anybody else’s way — only yours.
Copyright ©2014 Tina Welling. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from New World Library, NewWorldLibrary.com.