Penning gutter balls

Heartbeat. First word. Its syllables hit my chest as I gather my…courage to write. Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and saying what I believe. This is a tricky thing to do because, it lets people see what’s in your head and they won’t always agree. Even something that you inhabit so strongly can be hated by someone else.

To use a quote by Nadine Gordimer, something I actually find quite true, “We ought to treat words the way we treat nuclear energy – with courage, caution, vision and precision.” And truth, I want to add. People may not like that, if they are not like-minded with you or maybe even if they are and what you have said has opened a wound they weren’t willing to acknowledge. When writing the truth, precision is vital because if you dive around what’s really there or avoid what really needs to be written, then you could do yourself and your reader a massive disservice…For me, I cannot write without one truth, that I am a Christian and all my writing is informed by that. So much of what I read or encounter attempts to covertly divert me from doing this, sometimes even very obviously. But that goes with the territory.

In this space of unabashed literature, it is rare for this position to win the popular vote. Here’s where the caution comes in because to share this truth may not mean screaming it in someone’s face or making them read something that pushes them away. It can simply mean the way I write. But, I must be cautious too not to put popularity and the wish for that warmth of acceptance before writing what I write without fear.

Can I find a space where I can write with this truth colouring the nub of my pen? Do I need to push my way in there towards the scoff that inevitably comes? Do I need to lose these thoughts entirely and just write? Ah yes, vision, the future I endeavour to write towards. Natalie Goldberg says writing is a living process. I write where, what and how I live. I write towards where I may live. I write what I live and need to do so even when that isn’t popular. “I don’t care about your church or your chocolate,” it said on the wall. They laughed, I’m sure – that’s why it’s up there. But I wonder if there is a place for my writing in this space. I have my blog that I have made fitting for me, writing without judgment, I hope, and reflectively, I think, and to serve the one truth that sits above the rest.

But there will always be that moment of, “breathe and arm yourself” and that’s what it should be. As Njabulo Ndebele said about writing, “The only thing that sustains you is a daring act of faith”. For me, this sentiment is two-fold.

It’s like bowling with the sides down; you’re going to fall into a very narrow space most of the time if you speak the truth. I choose the right ball for me. Heavy? Yup. Maybe a little tight around the fingers or too loose, and I need to be careful it is not quickly swapped for another ball by my editor or what I think my reader wants, or my own lack of courage. I need to be precise or I won’t hit the pins down the middle. Do I want to do that? Maybe in the gutter is the place to be – tight, one direction, not too comfortable but not hitting the pins down, just letting them glimpse the trajectory and choosing for themselves.

pic 19-100

Image sourced and illustrated by me.

Goldberg also said we cannot afford to be fussy but I think we can. I think I can choose exactly what I want to write about because my voice that I speak in every blog post and article needs to be exactly what I think. Not what I am pressured to write about or nudged to write about but what I actually want to share because what I put out to others is something I can absolutely be fussy about.

The act of writing is “the act of finding your way through a turbulent sea of words” – Ndebele.

The pressure to pick the right one is another challenge in writing. As Njabulo Ndebele did, sometimes it works just to write the random, jumbled miscreants in your head because when you get it down on screen or paper, you can deal with it. It becomes a personal courage now because you have to look your ideas in the eye and think about what they really mean. Picking out the ‘right’ ones.

The bad caution is to second-guess your word choice and think it’s not good enough to post or it’s not ‘smart’. This is a trap I can fall into when I am not courageous enough to risk failure. I try to be this image of an academic or a blogger. Here, I can lose my voice.

There is also the fear of looking like a fool or being ignorant, especially in the current climate of wokeness, where there is little forgiveness for the dozing. There is also the question of whose opinion or lived experiences matter because as a white person, you can sometimes feel irrelevant in the conversation, perhaps because of others but also because of how loud your ‘voice’ has been for so long.

Of course, there is room for every thought on the blogosphere but even though I should not fear the reactions of others, I feel I should be gentle too. That’s something that can be forgotten in the yearning to be witty or be the keyboard warrior, we can forget to be kind.

It is risky business to be a writer. To really say what you believe. That, in essence, is what lies at the very base of writing. Beyond the courage, caution, vision, precision, truth, kindness and sometimes the pink-faced grappling…To truly believe the words on your page.


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