Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing

# 4. My new title and job description

Another revelation that hit me broadside, along with the idea of slow writing: I am an elder now. A title no one gave me, a position no one asked me to fill. But no matter, our real calling always sounds from deep inside us anyway. Part of challenge of making our way in the world, as a young person, is convincing the world that what is in us to do is precisely what they need from us. Making our avocation and vocation one.

So I am an elder now, a self-assigned title which I mean not in its generic, marketing, target-population sense, but in its venerable, ancient, life-earned, tribal sense.

La Viejita: an ornament given to me by Ria Shroff, our current teacher volunteer at the farm.
La Viejita: an ornament given to me by Ria Shroff, our current teacher volunteer at Alta Gracia

Being an elder means viewing my life as a vehicle for service, for giving back, for helping others win, for launching the young arrivals in the field of time, who have such monumental challenges ahead of them! And by service I don't mean indiscriminate responsiveness to what the world wants; I don't mean being a star; writing another book just like the last one my readers liked. A writer's real service comes from keeping an ear close to the ground, from paying attention, listening carefully, living with all the windows and doors wide open; among those windows and doors, including the mundane, often-overlooked eyes, ears, skin that touches and feels, tongue, nose, the senses, the senses, which as Lorca reminds us are the only instruments we have with which to conduct our research: "The poet is the professor of the five senses."

This way of life is the beginning of craft, followed by the roll-up-your-sleeves, difficult, exhilarating labor of finding language adequate to the experience of being alive. Finding the form that best contains and releases this experience: whether it be a poem, a story, a novel, a book for young readers, or as now, this slug.

As an elder, I serve by giving back with what I claim as my calling: using language and narrative for moving through experience, for making meaning, for accessing the unspoken, the mysterious, the baffling, and also, oddly, for traffic in the other direction, for attending to the daily, the ordinary, the quiet of the peony -- which simple things, in another odd turn, contain at their center the mysterious, the baffling, the unspoken.

How can I serve this brave new world that we have entered -- there is no going back! -- using the (maybe) antique talents I have spent a life learning, not that one life is ever enough. As Basho wrote: Skylark sings all day, and day not long enough.

Part of the reason I chose to begin this slug was to force myself to slow down, to listen patiently; to pay attention, magpie style, to the little details, left and right; to live, to read, to write slowly, the footprints making the path.

Julia Alvarez
February, 2010
3 blades of grass
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una babosa -- a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic
una babosa
a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic

Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing
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