Tag Archives: What Binds Us

Why We Write

1 Jan

Or: Why a pan of black beans is like burnt orange toile is like a poem. And why we need them all.


Textile art by my friend Patty (using my Daily Shorty method).

Not too long ago, I spent an afternoon cooking a meal for friends struggling with a very painful loss. I was reeling from the news myself, which I’d received the evening before. The only thing I know to do for someone in pain, besides listen, is to feed them. So I went through my pantry, came up with a dish I could make, and started cooking.

As I tasted the black beans that were an element of the dish, as I added a little heat, some acid, a bit of floral sweet, my breathless anger—why should they have to endure this?—settled into a quiet, productive sadness. I could think past the awfulness. I could ask myself: What will feed them well?


My friend Cheryl made this.*

Because I was making something, and because I had to call on what I know of flavor and texture to build it from scratch, I was, in those hours, more whole than I had been since receiving the news. Because I was being creative, I could shift my energy from the horror, and focus instead on what could be done. I could focus on their need and try to fill one small piece of it.

Around the same time, another friend was mourning the loss of her mother, a troubled woman who had lived more than her share of pains. They had a complicated relationship, and part of her grief has consisted of processing that relationship. As she does that, she reminds herself to focus on the things she admired about her mother, including her skill at sewing and making crafts. She told me about the fabrics her mother had stored in her basement sewing space, a staggering range of colors and designs, everything from plain white cotton to orange toile to extravagant prints.


My friend Beth made this beautiful card.

When my friend’s mother was making things, she seemed to come into a self that wasn’t weighted by years of grief and disappointment. She wasn’t wracked with resentment and anger at a world that had not treated her well. When she was at her sewing machine, she was, simply, more whole. And by gifting the things she made to her daughters and grandchildren, to neighbors and friends, she made them more whole.

Writing, cooking, sewing. My brother tells me he loves to forge iron and fire cannons—WHAT?? Okay, add metalwork to my list, add a blast of smoke and fire, and note my sister’s needlework, a close friend’s beautiful handmade cards. We all need to make things, to be creative. Gardening, tinkering with an old car, reinventing old furniture (my mother-in-law’s latest specialty). Even crafting an e-mail has calmed my spirit, shown me a more glittering truth.


My sister stitched this 20 years ago.

This is not news. To be creative is part of being human, we know this. But I’m not sure we always understand that to plant a new row of Queen of Night tulips adds to our wholeness, or to fire a cannon makes life feel that one instant less short. That to spend an hour making cards is an act of mental health. And generosity.

It sounds so lofty to say—as I have many times—that writers write to make ourselves more whole. Or maybe I mean it sounds pretentious. But I’m just saying what we all know already. To be whole we must make things. We confused, distracted humans need and love both attention and intention. So my wish for us all in 2017, writers and non-writers alike? Less worry, more action. Less news, more connection. Less spending, more making.

Dig in. Stop time while you cut a strip of pretty paper or hold a piece of metal over a fire, when you discover that exactly right line-break and groove on the white space. Make a story a poem a pair of mittens a birthday card a Christmas ornament a pan of lasagna. Make something. And then share it.


*You can pre-order Cheryl Wilder’s chapbook What Binds Us here.