When I Say Yes
Something happened last week that I can’t tell you about without potentially embarrassing another writer. That’s something I try to never do. We’re all laboring in the vineyard of words. I respect anyone who faces the blank page. Suffice it to say that the thing that happened became a test of my belief that we should all give back more than we’ve received along our writer’s journey. I’m a writer and a teacher who has trouble saying no. This time, though I had every reason to refuse, I said yes again. I said yes for the sake of this writing life that’s given me so much.
Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve convinced myself that the more we contribute to the good of the group (and by that I mean this community of writers), the more we have returned to us. So when I’m asked to read something, write something, teach something, I usually say yes. I can remember a few times when I’ve had to say no, but those have been rare and have usually been dictated by circumstances beyond my control.
I know there are studies that show that people who learn to say no become more productive, and I have no doubt that this is true. I even advise my students to be protective of their writing time. Why can’t I take my own advice?
I don’t believe my mother or father ever said no to anyone who asked a favor of them. My father, flawed as he was, lived a generous life, never turning the other way when someone needed help. My mother believed in Christian charity and often times stepped outside her comfort zone to perform a duty that her church, or the schools where she taught, asked of her. Both my parents were constantly saying yes because to them, no wasn’t an option. The message behind their actions filtered down to me. We said yes because we were all imperfect and from time to time we all needed help. How could we expect people to be there for us in our times of need if we’d never been there for them?
This writing life has been a gift to me. It’s given me the chance to do something I love. I’ve used words to help me better understand myself, others, and the world around us. A shy child—basically an introvert as an adult—I’ve been able to express myself in a way I never would have without my writing. As a teacher, I’ve had the privilege of knowing countless good and talented writers. The world has expanded for me, an only child who grew up, for the most part, in a rural location. I’ve gone places I never would have gone. I’ve met people I never would have met. I’ve become a better person for what we all share—the love of the written word and the irrepressible belief that writing matters. It may sound cliché to say that writing has saved me, but it has, time and time again. It’s been my religion, my protector, my taskmaster, my solace, my guide, my instructor, my teacher, my sustenance, my identity.
When I say yes, I say thank you. Thank you for this chance. Thank you for this gift. Thank you for this life.
Your generosity as a teacher, a fellow-writer, and as a friend has touched more people than you can imagine. I had planned to share this with you privately, but now I feel compelled to post this on your blog.
Spring quarter I taught CNF at Antioch University. The readings included selections from The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, and Brevity.com. Each student had the opportunity to choose an essay from Brevity and discuss it with the class–you know the drill. But for the last class I surprised them: In addition to reading your essay “Sorry,” I read your Brevity essay,”Talk Big” in character. I selected these two, not only because both are examples of outstanding writing, but also because I dedicated the class to you–Lee Martin, the teacher, the writer, the friend. I wanted these students to know how much their teacher respects, and continues to learn from another.
Thank you for all you did, and continue to do for me via this blog. I may not be chatting much, but I’m always listening to what you have to say.
Meryl, thank you so much for this. I’ve been away teaching at a writers’ conference in Vermont, and that’s why I’m slow to respond. Teaching is a constant giving back, yes? You’re very kind.