Beware the Unruly Catholic Woman on the Train

Last week, I traveled about 48 hours round-trip by train/bus/car, spent $300 on said transportation(s), and didn’t get a full-night’s rest for four nights to attend a reading of Unruly Catholic Women Writers in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. Train and bus schedules were such that I could get out there for the reading on time, but I’d either have to leave again that same night or stick around until Saturday. So I blew in, read about being Catholic and bisexual, and disappeared as quickly as I came. We Catholic bisexuals have a reputation for being elusive to uphold, after all.

It was easy for me to ask myself why I was doing it at all, but asking that question is a little like asking why I write at all. When you line up the return on investment in neat little columns, it doesn’t seem like a very sound choice. After all, for all that travel and lost sleep, I wasn’t earning a hefty stipend, hob-nobbing with big wigs in the publishing world, or networking in hopes of grabbing that Next Big Opportunity. I wasn’t reading to a sold-out auditorium of three-thousand people, but rather an intimate classroom of about fifteen, including some very thoughtful and engaged college students and some feisty nuns.

It was perfect. The only thing that would have made it better would have been one night’s sleep in a real bed, a longer conversation with fellow contributors at dinner (I had to catch a cab shortly after I’d eaten), and the chance to see the Marian library at the University of Dayton (my body won out over my mind and I slept the afternoon away instead).

This is where I need to stop measuring experiences using a material measuring stick (opportunity, pay, prestige) and instead look at what my writer’s soul gets out of it. And what my writer’s soul got was divine — the opportunity to meet other women writing about the intersection of faith, gender, and experiences; the opportunity to hear poems and essays that I had already read in the voices of their creators; the chance to feel like a Real Writer hanging out with other Real Writers.

And that was just the reading. I also got the opportunity to write Morning Pages from the observation deck of the Amtrak as it rolled through Iowa, in Cincinnati’s desolate Union Station at 4 am, and in Chicago’s anything-but-desolate station on my return trip. It was in doing those Morning Pages that I saw the beauty of what Morning Pages could be — the opportunity to take a snapshot of my mind and my world wherever I ended up on a given morning, capturing memories and experiences I would have let slide away because of being too tired or too overstimulated if I hadn’t established the discipline of writing those pages regardless of whether I thought I had anything to say.

These opportunities to feel like a Real Writer can be all-too-rare, and they wear off much too quickly (although this great blog post about Rumpled that went up while I was away helped). I always have this elusive goal in mind, that I will feel like a Real Writer when … and each time I meet that goal, the feeling of Real Writer Euphoria lasts for about a week before it’s back to the same old insecurities. Still, because I love to travel by train and to wake up in new places, the experience was something of a smorgasborg for my writer’s soul, an opportunity to “fill up my well” with memories and connections that may come to fruition in surprising ways months or even years from now. I showed up, and I’m willing to let the universe do the rest.

Was it worth $300 and a few sleepless nights? Absolutely — and it was a bargain at that.

“If we are invested in a writing life—as opposed to a writing career—then we are in it for the process and not the product. We are in it for the body of work and not for the quick hit of one well-realized piece.” – Julia Cameron, “The Well”, The Right to Write