This week's Middle Distance marks the 200th episode. Congratulations and thank you, Kathryn, for all you have done, and continue to do in the community! —Noel Black, Producer, and the KRCC Staff
I get irritated with writers who only write about writing. How can someone who doesn’t write essays or memoir or short stories or poems or novels, or even news stories have anything useful to say to someone who wants to tell a story?
Believe it or not, these writers who write only about writing do exist, especially in the ever expanding font of knowledge called the internet.
Think about it: It’s like giving instructions on how to fix a leaky faucet by simply reiterating an instruction manual that already exists, never having held a wrench in your hand. Journalism now calls that kind of writing content management, but that’s another story.
I am seizing the occasion to reflect a tiny bit on writing and why I do it because this week marks the 200th Middle Distance I’ve written since July 2010. I didn’t celebrate number 100, a commentary on a fine book by a Denver writer, because back then I felt I was just finding my way.
I’m celebrating 200 not because I have mastered anything, but because I can and because it feels fat and round.
You may never have read or heard this column, The Middle Distance, before; you may occasionally trip upon it flipping channels on your radio; or you may be a regular listener or reader. It came about as a weekly feature — something small, a 5-minute/750-word appetizer — to anchor The Big Something, producer Noel Black’s local web-based program on krcc.org. Originally it was conceived as the continuation of a newspaper column I used to write for the Colorado Springs Independent, stories about a working mother growing up alongside her children. The Middle Distance would pick up where that one left off, reflecting on life after child-rearing, on the challenges and rewards of middle age.
In truth, it turned out to be a life rope. I was in choppy water when I began writing it and in short order, just a month or two in, I was caught up in a tidal wave. My life was changing in a revolutionary way; that is, a violent upheaval had shifted the ground, upsetting any order I had previously understood. A big chunk of my family, my foundation, had disappeared in startling and mysterious ways, and I was barely treading water on a daily basis.
But given the opportunity to write about that, or about anything else that suited me, I built a new foundation of words. Words had always served me well. I loved swimming in them, especially in books by writers I admired. Words could be elusive but were ultimately reliable.
They made sentences that made paragraphs that contained images and memories and experiences and observations and sounds that ordered chaos. Words were and are my prayers, offered to the universe in gratitude for being alive.
So many writers have said it better than I can. Those who have written great and lasting stories or poems or songs are the ones whose words about writing are worth hearing. William Stafford, who published his first collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, at age 48, on the thin edge of the middle distance, said:
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope ... not Optimism ... not Common Sense ... not Self
Righteousness ... nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling about your own soul ... and its condition ... the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle ... beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.
What writers do, said E.L. Doctorow, is “distribute the suffering so it can be borne.”
The kind of writing I do is often memory-based, and offers me the opportunity to do the things I enjoy most — meandering, wandering, watching, daydreaming — while also keeping me firmly rooted in the physical world, reminded of the temporal, ephemeral nature of existence. My friend, the writer John Nichols continually reminds me that “nature is cold-blooded,” a good thing for a writer to remember.
My favorite short story writer, Ellen Gilchrist, says we write in a “quest for truth ... the only journey I’m interested in going on.” We write, says Gilchrist, to “[get] a glimpse, a peek at what’s beneath the illusion ... a chance to see what’s really going on.”
I am grateful for the chance I’ve been given to keep on living, to keep on remembering and seeking, to keep on writing out here in the middle distance, past two-hundred.