“God who knows all things, I have no prayer book and I do not know any prayers by heart. But you know all the prayers. You are God. So this is what I am going to do. I am going to say the alphabet, and I will let you put the words together.”
-Neil Gaiman in “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”
As the voice of each impending storyteller was tested with the appropriate audio equipment, they were asked to say the alphabet, slow and clear, into a microphone clipped to the collar: “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…”
All the while, the rest of the cohort sat in chairs arranged in an intimate circle around the camera. A quiet pulled us all into the middle of the small room, drawing a whirlpool of solemnity round and round. With volume-laden bookshelves lining the walls, we were pressed upon by unspoken words, while, conversely, all of the bound sheaves of paper swallowed and drew back the echoes of our silence.
As a way to dilute nervous energy, people began to fill the time between stories with more stories—mostly relaying funny and touching tales about their students. These scarlet and gold threads wove themselves into the blue and gray patches of contemplation, rejection, joy, and sorrow that were our Ugly Duckling pieces. Stories stitched into stories, everyone speaking as they were called. No one knowing if and how anything would fit together. Just weaving.
At one point, we all stopped and admired the tapestry Katie had draped across a bookshelf to use as a backdrop for filming. The rich pattern of it. All threads in abstract shapes falling on top of each other.
There were stories knit together too sacred, too long and good, to repeat in full here. But one comes to mind right now that feels especially relevant: Pam’s kindergarten student who misunderstood—or perhaps understood too well—the meaning of heaven as somewhere you can go for a weekend and come back. There was such a sweetness about this child’s innocent misperception that is difficult for my inner writer to resist. What if bliss is a mindset, an acceptance of the incomplete, rather than this whole other plane?
Follow Your Bliss
It makes me think that a creative idea is just an undefined prayer. Creativity worships trust in process and nothing else. Sometimes all we have are linear, tangible sets of symbols that we can hold onto in our minds when the way forward is still unfolding. Sometimes we just have the alphabet.
With that in mind, it makes sense that we walked the labyrinth. Which, as it happens, is a lot like having an alphabet without a prayer book. It was chaotically organized—and not just because our cohort dragging ropes across the floor and squinting at diagrams to build the labyrinth was a bit of a circus.
Ultimately, the labyrinth was also an expression of organized chaos. You can only walk forward, because the labyrinth is structured. But the structure acts as a metaphor for any and all journeys—hence the chaos. When you walk the labyrinth, there’s only one job—stick to the path you can see, and be surprised, but open, when it leads you where it does.
The seminar this weekend was called “Strategies for Independent Study Project Design.” Along with being armed with some practical information about seeking out mentors and designing a group anthology project, we were essentially given the labyrinth as our strategy. Designing an independent study project requires having an equal amount of pragmatic focus on the visible, structured path ahead, as it does having the ability to crouch piously before one’s journal reciting whatever letters and words come through.
It begs the creator to treat ideas as though they have already been rearranged into the polished cadence of a “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” before time and serendipity have strung them into a tapestry, complete with visibly interconnecting stories.
We Walk Together
It can feel a little desperate, the eternal leap of faith that is the writer’s life.
When I walked the labyrinth this weekend, the only thing that became clearer is that it can’t be done completely alone. I moved myself along the path, but had to step with and around the other people in my cohort. It was this massive clock, each person’s small, deliberate steps like the clicking of a cog. We were time, but also working outside of its boundaries. We recreated the act of faith that is moving forward with a creative project that will, by the grace of Whatever, take on an existence of its own.
If my mind becomes paralyzed with resistance along the way, at least I know I can write the alphabet in my journal or on the computer. Over and over, just to show up. It’s prayer without a prayer book. It’s not needing to know, for once, more than what we learned in Kindergarten: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.