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About Theresa Nichols Schuster

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Theresa Nichols Schuster is author of "Brittle Silver" and "We Are the Warriors" a 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award Finalist. She currently lives in southwest Montana where she appreciates the wonders of nature, family, friends, a bit of pottery.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Risk of Writing

I clearly remember the trepidation I felt as one of my first newspaper articles with a philosophical-theological angle was published. Living in a small town where so many people know each other, I was a bit edgy about what others would think about my views and my diverse assimilation of various spiritual traditions and paths.

As it turns out, in some sense, we are what we write. Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical. No matter what we write, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, short stories, novels, newspaper articles or poetry, it all expresses something of who we are and what we believe or conversely don't believe. Even if the presentation of the subject is in apparently amoral or sociopathic terms, it still reflects how we think.

So then, what propels us to write, to cross this chasm of scrutiny and public judgment? Are we imparted with the desire to express the paradox, wonder, and musings of what our world appears to be?

George Steiner, in his "Lessons of the Masters," points out that all writing is "didactic," that is it intends to teach. It is claimed that as writers we should not moralize in our fiction, nor be so calculating as to write with an express purpose to change an individual's view through a story. In reality, how can we but not subtly lend influence with our own views and values?

Steiner goes on to insist, "The pulse of teaching is persuasion. The teacher solicits attention, agreement, and, optimally collaborative dissent. He or she invites trust..." As writers we imbue our pieces with the trust that we will be read with an open mind and friendly spirit. This may or may not actually happen. Of course, only if trust is reciprocal, is there actually a "teaching moment" or the possibility of the exchange of ideas, visions and reflections with the reader.

Is this then truly the yearning for many writers, to take the myriad of possible connections of letters, words and sounds to create an experience that invites, instructs, inspires, provokes and invites comparison and assimilation?

Additionally, Steiner surmises that, "To teach greatly is to awaken doubts in the pupil, to train for dissent. It is to school the disciple for departure ("Now leave me" commands Zarathustra). A valid Master should, at the close, be alone."

As we put forward our written words, we may be challenged, ignored, misunderstood or contradicted. But in so doing, we have communicated, given voice to that which is within, which is at one and the same time individual and communal. Writing always entails a risk, an inherent nakedness of our personhood, of our visions. Our exposure is in a form that in many ways we are unable to modulate or personally mentor.

We cannot see the eyes of those with whom we communicate; we cannot notice their change in facial expression or tone of voice as our words come to them. We are not able to explain or correct their interpretation of what we have said. Our words written on the piece of paper or screen live separate from us, but always intimately connected.

This brings me around to my use of the word foible in my last blog post...Foible means, "an odd feature or mild failing in a person's character. In fencing it is the weaker part of a sword blade between the middle and the point."

So if we are to wield our "swords," to grab them by the hilt and use the blade for effective action, we will take our abilities, characteristics, visions, talents, vocations and skills and put them to use. Whether it is by writing or many other of our endeavors, we would be wise to be aware of the weaknesses and foibles, within all of our strengths and abilities.

That which we are best at, that which we excel at or pride ourselves in, in some ways has faults, mild failings within it. These foibles can result in unskillful actions, failures or blindness. But by choosing to act, to take up the sword, we will express our talents, strengths and abilities and so too the faults that are a part of us. 

So if you find yourself a bit intimidated about writing for all to see, you can be "confident" that parts of yourself will shine through in your writing. In sharing your common humanity and the unique expression of yourself, what you write will be a gifted presentation with an invitation to trust and be persuaded. It will also contain the subtleties of your foibles. Your writing amazingly will have its own life, separate from your intentions, as it is assimilated by individuals with wide variations of experiences and world-views.