When Living Isn’t Enough


Thomas Mann wrote that a writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Could there be a better definition? While others use words to communicate, writers understand that words hold greater magic, that when pieced together in just the right combination, words give us passage into our deepest selves. We write to discover what we know. We write to set ourselves free.

I often think of words as blackbirds wheeling above a wire. I know I can coax them down; I’ve done it before. I know they will settle into a tidy line, and that this line, while not perfect, will at least be coherent. As I am no Shakespeare, this process will take an absurd amount of time, and some of the birds will have to be shifted around many times. Eventually I’ll recognize that I have exhausted my potential, which is when I stop and click save. One more idea wrested into words, one more swipe at the great mystery. Tom Stoppard wrote: “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”

Others might pity writers, might call it tyranny, this compulsion to hunt down the meaning of our experiences. Why isn’t living enough for us? I don’t know. I need to write about that.

How peaceful it must be to be done with each day when the day is done. All this sifting and sieving, this endless analyzing—I can’t say I’m any happier for the effort I’ve expended (nor a penny richer, but that’s another blog). And many times I wind up with nothing. Words are tools and sometimes they come up short, sometimes they fail me. Or I fail them.

Scant recognition. Slight compensation. Dubious value. Impossible odds.

Life is short. Mine will be over long before I’ve learned how to live it. You’d think I’d just stop this mad chase. Go play. Have fun.

Maybe I will. After.



Photo credit: derekbruff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

6 thoughts on “When Living Isn’t Enough

  1. Living is quite enough, actually. When one has a commanding talent in a subject of their interest, then this activity becomes a fulfilling part of life’s enjoyment. Whether it comes by way of lifting a brush to canvas, a hand to clay, a flower to earth, or mind and spirit to keyboard, either musical or literary, these endeavors are life’s passions.They are quite worth the energy they are given as they enrich the spiritual essence of life itself — they, in their myriad forms, are in fact an essential reason to live.

  2. I live with a Writer and your eloquent insight into what a Writer deals with in their lives — discovering the words, thoughts crafted into articulate and generous sentences to round up ideas — reminds me of the bounty that is often just out of my reach and brought to my scattered attention because of that work and effort to express those ideas that I am keenly aware of and cherish. I am so grateful to you, Jean Ryan, for being an Artist that can create the sculptures that become prose (and poetry!) that I can read, think about and, ultimately, absorb into an understanding and share with my own coterie. I am made aware of the time and work that makes me so deeply happy to share my life in the proximity of my gifted Writer lo’ these 25 years. What a gift! Thank you! Xoxoxo

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