Monday, March 16, 2009

So, Are You *Just* a Writer?

Mozart's Signature

He smiled and said the same words a young woman had voiced to me an hour before at Jubilee...

So, are you just a writer?

Neither student meant it for ill. I think the question had another question beneath it, 'Can somebody make a living simply by being a writer?' (The answer is a complicated, 'Well, not really, unless you write full-time for an organization or corporation as part of their paid staff and even then you aren't likely to make much money.') But I smiled and said, 'Yes, I'm just a writer.'

To me, that statement presents a deep personal challenge. It has nothing to do with salary and everything to do with whether I allow myself to embrace a gift that sometimes seems frivolous. Writing, after all, seems much less impressive than organizing monastic living experiences or creating real opportunities for the poor. Yet it is one of the things I do best and feel pleasure through (well, when the writing is done and the interaction around it begins! :)

This is why, of all the things I could have taken from Make the Impossible Possible, I landed on Strickland's bold admission, I have dedicated my life to helping other people, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished along those lines, but you can't really understand me, or what my life has been about, unless you grasp the fact that I didn't do any of it out of 'selflessness', I did it to be 'myself.'

The self Strickland chose to be? An artist, bringing the joy of clay, the peace of the potter's wheel, to down-and-outers. This led to the development of a job-training center, which now offers opportunities in music production, orchid-growing (and selling), culinary arts and pharmaceuticals. But it began with Strickland's passion, his gift.

Sometimes it's hard to envision where our gifts might lead. Surely Strickland didn't foresee the Arts and Training Center that is now an inspiration and life-saver for so many people. He even had moments of great doubt and despair. But something inside him held onto what he loved most and did best. This challenges me, comforts and invites me to say, with head held high...

Yes, I'm just a writer. Yes.

[disclaimer: I'm also a mother, a teacher, an avid cook, an artist, a musician of sorts, a public speaker, a runner, and so on, but I don't seem to have a problem embracing those things... not sure why :) ]

High Calling Blogs Beauty Isn't Poor
Laura's Dream Big

Kids Are Big Business, at The High

Mozart's and Others' Signatures, at cafe in Vienna. Photo by J Barkat. Used with permission.
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Blogger RissaRoo said...

I'm so glad you're "just" a writer!

I love the way Bill Strickland sees the root of his success: Doing what he loves, working with what he is passionate about to bring about change. It makes sense, really. Doing what we know and what our hearts long to do would logically bring about success, since we're dedicated and passionate about it. That sort of passion is contagious!

Which is one thing I love about what you're inspiring to those of us who also want to be "just writers" (and mothers, teachers, chefs...are we ever 'just' anything?). Thanks for that!

10:14 AM  
Blogger mom2six said...

How amazing to be able to take what your are passionate about and turn it into something that benefits others as well.

And I totally argree with Erica, "I'm so glad you're "just" a writer, you're inspiring to those of us who also want to be "just writers". Even those of us who just dabble. Sincerely, thanks!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Ahh. One of my greatest regrets in life, not embracing this gift until here I am...almost forty.

But having a mentor to do so was not an option for me. This is what I love about Manchester Bidwell. Built in mentors.

What a difference they make to a life.

So I apply my late-blooming knowledge to raising these two children of mine. Fostering dreams, feeding passions...

What else could I do?

Enjoying the book thus far!

10:48 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks for being "just a writer" inspire me to learn what a fully embrace of my own self could mean. I love how you love people in your words.

12:25 PM  
Blogger sojourner said...

"....not sure why...." perhaps it is because you are still in the process of becoming and writing is the creative gift that allows you to explore all the pieces and parts of the transformation process - giftedness is never "just" anything about anyone because it is our God part that allows us to create.

12:51 PM  
Blogger nAncY said...

your writing always leaves me with so much to think ponder...about life, faith, and my self.

i feel blessed to be able experience a share of your gift of words. all the other gifts you have are a part of it. all together part of the story.

a friend at, helping at our tasting on saturday, brought his guitar at my request. though he was too shy to play it for everyone, he had it in the back room. he said he had a story to tell me as we were in the croud, but, that when we were in the back room, where everyone goes to eat and have quiet, he would tell me. later we were back there and he played some of his stuff on the guitar for me, no words, lyrics, and each one i thought sounded like a story to me, and later he said "wait, i forgot to tell you my story", and i told him that i thought that was what the music was, he said "why, yes, i wrote them with stories in mind" and looked surprised that i would sense that...well, then he told me the story that he forgot to tell me, and then we went back to work.

it all still leaves me wondering...

1:11 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Several years ago, I went to an artist retreat.
"Are you an artist?"
"What's your medium?"
Questions asked throughout the weekend left me questioning~
my art.
I was "really" "just a teacher" then.
And not.
My struggle came and (mostly) ended when I discovered something so important to me.
Now, living my life as "just a mother", I thrill at the thought that I AM an artist.
My LIFE is my medium,
always has been.
It's just that now,
I no longer apologize for it.
I guess you could say~
I found my soul.

5:02 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erica, thanks. : ) Strickland surely inspires with this message of embracing that which we love and going from there. As for being "just" anything, I guess that's why I felt the need to put a disclaimer. I'm so many things. But the admission that I'm just a writer is more about saying, "It's okay with me that I'm not developing monastic living experiences (or some other such thing). I'm a writer and this is my way of blessing the world and me."

Mom2Six, I'm thinking it's hard to sometimes see how the blessing comes about. That's where it takes a bit of trust that doing what we love makes us loving and helps us bless others. Thanks for being on this writing journey with me.

Laura, I hadn't considered the mentor aspect. Yes, that's partly what encouraged Strickland. Makes me question... as we work with our own kids and others around us, do we encourage them in their passions and help them find mentors if we ourselves cannot play that role?

Sarah, I'm thinking that's part of the key here... how we find we can both love ourselves and love others through particular gifts.

Sojourner, that may be part of it... the vulnerability of pursuing something that we are still trying to grow into (will I ever really be the writer I want to be? Maybe if I become that writer, it will be time to move on to something else! : )

nAncY, thank you. I think that's what I would hope for. And I loved your story about the musician and his stories in his rhythms, sounds.

Kimberly, how I love that idea that YOU are your medium. A very yummy idea indeed. Also, welcome to Seedlings! I thought your comment looked so much like a poem that I linked to it from the "I Found My Soul" prompt post. (Maybe this is what you intended? :)

7:36 PM  
OpenID cindyhan111 said...

I'm not big on commenting on already large comment lists, but I have to... just HAVE to!!!!

I had a doll as a child, on it's back was a round plastic ring tied to a rip cord. When you pulled it, the baby cried, leaving me to cradle it my arms.
This is how I see you right now with all the other writer's in the world. Cradling in your arms the expectant croons we all make when it comes to the heart of the artist!!
What a loving piece! cindy

7:40 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

We can all be tempted to wish we were doing something else from time to time. Perhaps something more important or more significant.

But it's being faithful to what you've been called to that's the important part of being "just anything".

Being just a writer is just fine if that's what God has called you to. And he appears to have made you a fine writer.

11:03 PM  
Blogger SUNRISE SISTER said...

It takes courage to announce to others that we are writers, or artists, or 'just' mothers, or 'just' whatever. The people who ask back - is that all? - What are they? I mean do they ever consider how the question sounds? I wonder.

It takes courage to announce one's intention, one's existence - congratulations!!

11:33 PM  
Blogger Sam Van Eman said...

Great post, L.L.

Maybe the students were so impressed (I find the title, "writer," to be rather impressive) that they figured you must have some other source of income. Only great writers can call themselves "writers" and here they were - presumably in the midst of one.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Letters From Midlife said...

I'm glad you and so many others are "just" writers!

9:56 AM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

So thankful you are 'just' a writer and so very, very thankful for the passions and gifts that God gives so that we may be blessed and encouraged by one another.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Jenn Calling Home said...

So I don't have to feel guilty for spending time's not just a frivolous thing but part of who I am?

Thank you for sharing this. I'm going to check out Strickland and be even more inspired, I'm sure.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

very good thoughts here, L.L.

yes- a valid point. We learn to do what we're gifted in. And in so doing we (can) participate in the very love and life of God in and for this world.

I wish I could write much more myself. I promise not to be so exhaustive (and probably exhausting) over your next book. But I look forward to it!

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Jim Martin said...

Outstanding! You have embraced your vocation and that has made your writing anything but "just writing." Thanks for this.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

'Just a writer', no...however,
A person making a difference by causing thinking out of the box, looking with new eyes, helping in the search for our selves...yes indeed...and so much more. Thank you.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle Gregory said...

love the post. makes me think of a great quote i found:

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~ Howard Thurman

thinking i'll re-blog this, if i remember!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Michelle Gregory said...

oh, and yes, i'm just a writer, too.

10:25 AM  
Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said...

I have come to the conclusion, and it's been a long time in coming, that to be all else ... to be cluttered with my many labels and preferences ... to the neglect of my need to "write", is to fall quite short of what I was meant to be.

Writing is life to me, and it is enough. At least today, and since today is all I've been given, then life is living pretty fine in my neck of the woods.


4:38 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Sometimes I think what's behind that "are you just a something-something?" question comes from another angle.
So many writers are not free to just write these days. They have to do their own marketing, lead writing how-to seminars, keep up with blogging (for marketing purposes, of course), report for the neighborhood newspaper, and speak publicly-articulately-passionately-expertly about whatever topic their most recent book covers; there's very little time left to just write.

I, for one, would like to be able to say, "Yes, I am just an artist," because it would mean that I'd found a way to release a lot of the other flotsam in my life. Fanciful thought on my part since I doubt life will ever get that simple. But it sure does help to hone my vision and talent when I can spend time going deep and broad in the thing I love.

I'm a mother, a teacher, a wife, a Christ-follower, an artist, a musician, a... a... a... Thankfully there is a blessed overlap in so many of those roles. But I can tell when I'm not able to be just any one of them wholly and completely, I'm doing halfway jobs with halfway passion and halfway vision all over the place. Blergh.

6:39 PM  

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