Sometimes we writers (and speakers) go to incredible lengths to connect with our audience. And so we should. We have sparks to pass on.
In retrospect, I should have travelled to that spring writers’ conference in Saskatoon the evening before. But I’d already put in a long day at the computer. Given the choice of a four-hour evening journey (plus having to pack, find a hotel and meals, etc.) or a four-hour early morning journey, both my husband and I chose morning.
It wouldn’t have mattered so much had I not been the keynote speaker. Thank goodness, the evening before, the conference coordinators and I had discussed a contingency plan. Not that we thought we’d need it. The forecast seemed acceptable.
Nevertheless, that story ends this way: at 9:14 a.m., the next morning, I picked up my home office telephone and dialed long-distance.
Someone picked up. “You’re on, Kathleen. Go ahead.”
“Good morning, fellow scribes!” I said, hoping my smile would somehow scoot through the phone wire. “I never thought we’d meet like this!” For the next forty-five minutes, I delivered to my unseen listeners a well-prepared, but by far the most awkward, keynote address I’ve ever given. The patient audience at the other end, listening to my scratchy voice coming from a telephone someone held up to a microphone, likely felt the same.
We left in good time, I explained to my listeners, by way of apology. But an hour into our trip, we noticed something just up ahead: a white wall. White walls appearing out of nowhere on the prairies—no matter the season, it seems—mean only one thing. In a few minutes a colossal snowstorm surrounded us, so severe even the semis pulled over.
You know a storm’s bad when semis pull over. At that point I delivered a three-word imperative sentence to my driver-husband. “Hon, turn around.” He didn’t argue.
The storm chased us home. We barely beat it there, thanks to a long detour around a washed-out road. CAUTION, read a miniature diamond-shaped sign perched barely a few feet before the raging creek.
Back home, and glad to be, I called Saskatoon. “You know that plan…?”
I spoke at that conference while sitting in my home office, watching the blizzard and a shocked flock of purple finches sheltering on my deck feeder. No doubt expecting spring (like the rest of us), they’d arrived only a few days earlier.
My workshop went marginally better, thanks to Skype, even though my attendants appeared as mere blobs on chairs, stuttering words I couldn’t properly hear, answering questions I couldn’t properly ask. But we were all very gracious.
Words, written or spoken, demand an audience. Casting them into what seems like a vacuum, where feedback is little or non-existent, brings no satisfaction. We write to connect, and in the connecting, we are (inspired, driven, coaxed, persuaded, cajoled…) back to writing. Hence Facebook writers’ groups, critique circles and writing conferences. Few writers can survive for long the solitude we (paradoxically) need so desperately. (There’s a balance to this, of course. Few of us can survive too much connection, either.)
In the movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, Marty Wildhorn, a bitter, isolated old novelist played by Morgan Freeman, responds to his nephew’s urge to return to writing by snapping, “Nobody cares about a writer nobody reads.”
Watching that movie for the first time recently, I cried “Ouch!” at that line. And I don’t know a single writer, professional or amateur, who hasn’t felt the same at times. God, we cry, I know you called me to write, so doesn’t it make sense to also call people to read me? Someone, anyone, to care?
On that stormy day, I attended the rest of the conference by Skype too; a silent, smiling, blurry face on a computer in the corner, watching the passing scenery: mostly people’s middle thirds, and a few bobbing purses. Twice, the room held other workshops. But because the computer that housed me faced the room, not the platform, I couldn’t see the speakers.
“Please turn me!” I finally scrawled on a sheet of paper, holding it in front of my computer’s camera. I heard laughter, then someone with fuzzy edges got up and walked toward me. When all I could see was an unknown stomach, the room revolved, and the platform appeared.
I’ve been stuck behind a computer many times in life, but never inside one. Talk about a disconnect. But during a coffee break, a woman walked over, sat down, and looked directly into the camera at her end. For the first time all day, I looked someone in the eye.
“I attended a workshop you spoke at in Calgary about ten years ago,” she said. “I just thought I’d come over and thank you. You’re the reason I’m writing today.”
All those years. All those “Nobody cares about a writer nobody reads. I’m done,” moments. But somewhere out there lived a spark, lit first by God, but passed on through me. A spark I hadn’t even seen, one that would go on to connect with others, and pass to others. Who knew?
God. God knew.
Imagine the writers God inspired to write his Word. Sitting with their quills, thinking God intended their words only for their tribe, their local audience, or one small congregation, or ….? And there you are. There I am. Centuries later, reading their words, touched by their words, changed by their words.
In the movie I’ve mentioned, the writer’s nephew follows his uncle’s cynical comment with this comeback: “No one’s reading you because you’re not writing.”
Got words? Got God’s thumb in your back. As long as it stays there, keep writing. Write as though everyone is reading you—even when you can’t see a single soul. Connect with those he directs you to, and directs to you. And trust God to ignite the sparks.
So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9, HCSB
Kathleen Gibson, writer and broadcaster, describes herself as “a practicing Christian…and in this case practice doesn’t make perfect!” Her book, Practice By Practice: The Art of Everyday Faith, features a collection of favourite faith and life columns from her long-running newspaper column, Sunny Side Up. She is also the author of West Nile Diary—One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease. A former magazine editor and freelancer for Reader’s Digest, CBC Radio, and other major media, Kathleen’s work has received numerous awards and been published worldwide. Learn more about her at Simply Life with Kathleen Gibson.