The other day I was returning to my office from lunch, and found myself in the crowd watching a talented young musician rapping on the street. I thought of the immense courage, discipline, practice, creativity and fearlessness it took to stand on a busy sidewalk, where anyone could hear, anyone could walk by, and pour out your emotions in rhyming couplets.
There was nowhere to hide if he messed up, no dressing room to retreat to if he was booed, no guarantee that the busy shoppers and office lunch crowd would even pay him any attention. I realized, as I stopped to listen, that I don’t have anywhere near that kind of courage and dignity.
Over the last few months I have been trying to revive a long-stagnant book project, describing my experiences in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan and my research on landmine clearance in those countries.
My progress has been painfully slow, and I don’t know how long it will take me to develop into a workable draft – I’m hoping months rather than years, but I’m not holding my breath.
Doing a Ph.D. encouraged me to adopt a style of writing – detached, pedantic, obsessively detailed and yet abstract – that is not appropriate for this more personal undertaking, and I am trying to unlearn and relearn how to write for a broader public audience.
Doing this column has been good practice, and I have been reading back through them to remember what I got up to over the last decade. I have been grateful for the opportunity The Examiner and readers like you have given me, the freedom to be creative once a week.
But as I sit in front of the computer screen and try to craft interesting prose, I realize that something is holding me back. My writing has been decent, but never great. I am beginning to see why.
I have been afraid of really reaching down inside myself and bravely offering the raw, unfiltered sense of self for everyone to see. This takes a courage that I’m not sure I have. I have always placed a politically, academically and socially cautious barrier between my thoughts and my audience. I’ve been afraid of looking silly, of offending people, of causing trouble.
I can’t promise that my columns will get any better or be any more exciting in the months to come, I have a long way to go and a great deal to learn before I become the kind of writer I want to be.
But now, as I place my fingers on the keyboard I conjure up the image of that street performer as a challenge. Can ever match that level of fearlessness? Do I dare be that free?
I wish I could be.