Writing Life: A Practice of Being Present

Yesterday, I read a wonderful piece by Melissa Yancy on The Upside of Failure and was struck by these lines in the closing paragraph:

“If I hadn’t learned to love the act itself, I’d learned to love the lens—not the time spent writing, but the way that time at the page created meaning in all my other time. This is something poets know best and that the old poet in me had perhaps forgotten. It’s the sensibility the act of writing brings to that everyday snack of cold plums, those hours spent watching a skunk rooting in the backyard. I successfully failed long enough to find a kind of purity, in spite of myself.”

Yancy’s essay and those lines in particular gave me a sense of calm and comfort. You see, a couple of weeks ago – in a moment of exhausted frustration – I had scrawled a single line in my very neglected journal, “I’m tired of writing about things – I want to DO things.”

And, I’ve been carrying a small but weighty guilt in my pocket ever since.

… until something about Yancy’s words reminded me about this piece that I wrote rather a long time ago, originally as a column for my local paper. Reading back over it, I am reminded how often we miss the really good stories because we’re distracted by things we think we should be doing … how often we let other people’s opinions about what’s important color our own perspective … how often we overlook the modest but life-changing adventures right in our own backyards.


Heading out to sea and adventure in the wide world

Heading out to sea and adventure in the wide world

There are so many things I haven’t done.

When I was much younger, I knew I’d have to get out of my small, home town if I was ever going to experience “real” life. I couldn’t wait to stretch my wings and venture out into the big, wide world. In my mind, visions of New York City and San Francisco jostled for room next to slightly less tangible impressions of Paris, Rome, and some unidentified locale that left me with a smoky, windswept sense of Colorado, or maybe Montana.

I never made it past Boston.

Though I was accepted to several New York universities, it was the nearby Boston College campus that eventually bore witness to my first night away from home. I had traveled domestically with my family (thirty-two days driving around the country with my parents and sister … in a Volkswagen Rabbit) and my post-college life included a variety of big-city business trips, but I never did fly far from the nest. Other than brief stints in two neighboring towns, I have lived in my hometown for my whole life.

Sometimes, I wonder what adventures life might have brought me if I had slipped the noose of comfortable familiarity and escaped into the wild, blue yonder. What would I have done? Where would I have gone? What would I have seen? Whom would I have met?

Of course, now, I’ll never know.

Whatever opportunities I had for running away from home are far behind me now. I am grown up with a daughter of my own. I have roots and responsibilities and a routine. I have two cats for company and karate classes four times a week. My daughter has friends here.  My beau and I have our favorite Friday night hang out. We all have family close by. This small town has become our world.

And, that’s okay.

I have friends who travel extensively and even live abroad. A writer friend of mine relocated her entire family to France for two years. Another couple I met through online channels are currently living in Spain, teaching English, taking pictures, and writing poetry and novels. Another writer friend is heading out to Saigon for a couple months.

I sometimes feel as if these people are much braver than I. But then I remember that it also takes courage to stay in one place, to open up by becoming part of a community.

I rarely regret anymore that I chose Boston over New York. I hardly give it a second thought that I’ve never lived in another country or experienced the excitement of visiting exotic destinations. Instead, I am grateful that I have found a place I’m happy to call home.

That isn’t to say I don’t have any regrets.

Someone died last week. It was unexpected. I didn’t know his name until I read his obituary, but I knew his face. I’d seen him around town many times, waved or nodded to him often, and once or twice shared a table at the local coffee house. He was part of the fabric of my town – a familiar figure, a ready smile, a nameless neighbor.

When I learned of his passing, I was struck with a sharp sense of loss. I did not know this man, but I could have. I could have, but I’d let the chance slip through my fingers because I was busy or didn’t know what to say or just didn’t think enough to make an effort.

And now I’m sorry.

There are so many things I haven’t done, but perhaps in a small town it’s more important to consider all the people you haven’t met. This small town where I live is my corner of the world, and the people in it are what make it the wonderful place  it is. I still marvel at all the wonders of the world beyond our modest  borders, but I also see that there is much exploring to do here right at home.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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21 thoughts on “Writing Life: A Practice of Being Present

  1. Based on my experiences, the desire to be where you are not, however enchanting, is really a refined kind of procrastination, very enjoyable and quite subtle. I live in a small town, too, and in a small country besides, and as much as I would like to trade that for the wide world, I grow uneasy at the thought that if I start traveling I will do more and write less. Thoughtful post. 🙂

    • It’s a delicate balance. I never thought of yearning to be somewhere else as a form of procrastination, but I suppose it could become that … just one more I’ll-write-when restriction.

      The worry about “doing more and writing less” is an interesting one. I often find that the more I do, the easier the words come. It’s when I stop getting out there and doing/exploring/learning that the words seem to dry up. Though writing is a solitary task that takes us out of the world, so to speak, I do think that getting out and doing is an important element in the creative process.

      Thanks for inspiring further thought. 🙂

  2. A very moving piece.

    I did move away…not that far…but another state and now another. But I have learned too, that if I sit long enough in a rural space…my backyard for instance…I will see something different each and every day.

    Everything you say is so true. Thank you.

    • Thank you.
      And I couldn’t agree more. I often walk the same unremarkable trails over and over and over, and despite their lack of “wow factor,” always find something to amaze me. I once wrote a piece about diversity after “exploring” a tiny patch of my “lawn” (I put “lawn” in quotes because there was hardly a blade of grass in it – just a miniature jungle made up of countless varieties of tiny plants). Often, it’s not the particular place that brings the magic, it’s just the sitting still.

  3. What a great post. I’ve been reading your posts for months now, and this one came as a very big surprise. I had no idea. The world you inhabit in your writing and creativity is open and vast, and you seem to travel seamlessly and without effort in the many countries of mind and emotion. Living in your hometown your whole life is something at the very antipodes of my life, difficult for me to really fathom, but you write of it in a way that … I don’t know, but you describe a depth of human experience such that.. I might even envy you a bit…

    • Hello, Bea.
      So interesting to me that this personal detail surprised you. I’m flattered that you find my rambling to have a more “worldly” flavor, and I’m intrigued by your reference to the “many countries of mind and emotion.” I love that concept. Mostly – whether at home or enjoying modest travel adventures – I just want to take my time … slow down, really be present. It seems such a simple thing to strive for, and yet I so often miss the mark.

  4. Pingback: Writing Life: A Practice of Being Present #wrtr2wrtr | Words Can Inspire the World

  5. Pingback: Writing Life: A Practice of Being Present — Live to Write – Write to Live | Le Bien-Etre au bout des Doigts

  6. As someone who has never left her hometown, this piece really resonated with me. I, too, have had my regrets (and have wondered if I could really be a writer if I hadn’t traveled or lived in other places, gone beyond my comfort zone), but I’ve also made peace with them. I love my hometown, it’s my home, my center. Thank you, Jamie, for reminding me that I’m not the only one with this experience-and that it’s okay.

    • Oh, I think it’s more than ok, Tina. Though, as writers, we can’t help but ponder the “what ifs” of our lives, I think there’s something nourishing about staying in the same place for a long time. It also provides an interesting “creative constraint” that can help us refine and focus our perspective. And, as you say, for those of us who remain in one place for a long time, that place helps ground us. It gives us strong roots from which we can stretch up and out when we’re ready to push beyond our comfort zones, even if only in matters of the mind and not the physical world. 😉

  7. Peggy and I were having a very similar conversation just now, Jamie. I took the opposite path, sort of, having wandered extensively. And we are now more or less settled in our small home in the woods, not far from where my great grandparents and great-great grandparents are buried. Both lifestyles obviously have plusses, and minuses. I’ve always felt one can have adventures just walking out the door, wherever you live. It’s in how one views the world, a mindset, if you will. I really liked your post. –Curt

    • Hello, Curt.
      I agree wholeheartedly that new adventures are always possible, even if you are walking the same, modest path each day. I find that photography (even the simple shots I take for Instagram) helps to focus my attention on the small details that make each walk different from the last – a colorful leaf, the way a tree is reflected in a puddle, a hovering moth, or a miniature flower growing from a crack in the sidewalk. There really is so much to see. 🙂
      Thanks for coming by.

      • Macro-photography certainly encouraged me to look at the world in a new way, Jamie. I used to get frustrated in walking with my father because he was always stopping to take photographs— and then I began to see the world as he did. Talk about an aha! experience. –Curt

      • I am sure that I drive my beau and my daughter a little crazy sometimes with all my stopping to take pictures, but – like you – I find that the practice heightens my ability to observe and focus on details. It really does make you see the world differently. It slows you down a little, makes you pay more attention. I’ve only just started experimenting with macro photography, but I hope to be posting some of that to my Instagram feed soon. Are you on Instagram as well? Love to follow you!

  8. Hi Jamie, As someone who, along with all of my five siblings, left our home town when we moved out of home and never returned, I envy your connection to the place you live, especially the fact that you have family around. My sisters and I (my brother died many years ago) all live in different states. My parents are both gone and now none of us lives in our home town. When my Mum had to leave our family home and move in with my sister I was completely broken. That house was my last “safe place”; even though I didn’t often go there it meant there was still a place for me to go home to if I wanted. I felt I’d completely lost my moorings. I have travelled a lot and while I’ve lived in the place I’m in now for 13 years and have friends, my own family and community connections, it still doesn’t and I don’t think it ever will feel like home. When our mother died this year it was interesting to see how much it brought out in each of us our longing for our original home. We all miss it deeply. Travelling is great and I plan to do more, but you are so very fortunate to live in a place where you have roots and where you truly belong.

    • Thank you, Rose, for sharing your story and perspective. There is so much emotion and longing wrapped up in the word, “home.” And it means many different things to different people. Often, we don’t even realize what it is we long for, until it’s gone. I’m so sorry for the losses in your life and to your family. There are some places and times we can never return to, but perhaps that helps us learn what “home” means to us and makes it easier for us to create a new place where we can put down roots.

  9. Hello Jamie, Its fascinating meeting people from different cultures and walks of life, it opens your mind, inspires thought processes, and makes life just.. well.. colourful. And some people have that familiarish feel right when you meet them, I’m not sure why, but it keeps on happening. God forbid, that we close up our circle so tight that we also close our minds. Love reading your blog.

    • I think, Robynne, that you have hit on the most important aspect of traveling. Though there are many beautiful natural and historic sites to see, the most mind-expanding and heart-expanding part of traveling is learning about other human beings, other cultures, and other ways of life. This is, I think, critical to a writer – this ability to step inside another reality and see the world from a different perspective. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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