by Laurel Radzieski
Are you writing?
The question is warm and soft to the touch, but accompanied by a singed scent, as if it could be dangerous. On the phone, in cars, at coffee shops and restaurants, readings and parties, gatherings that currently feel far away and luxurious, the question hung in the air, waiting for one writer to pose it to another.
When a writer asks a fellow writer Are you writing? the inquiry infers additional questions:
Are you writing? (i.e. How are you doing?)
Are you writing? (i.e. How are you feeling)
Are you writing? (i.e. Are you nurtured?)
Are you writing? (i.e. Do you have enough time for your creative work?)
Are you writing? (i.e. Is there space for this, let’s face it, WORK?)
Are you writing? (i.e. How are you doing balancing your job/kids/family/pet/history/ health/fears/passions with being a writer?)
Are you writing? (i.e. If you are writing new things, can I read them?)
(i.e. Are you okay?)
(i.e. Do you know that you’re a writer even if you aren’t writing?)
Sheltering in place, my nights are filled with Zoom readings, lectures that were previously inaccessible, and reaching out to loved ones, friends, writers. I try to focus on the Are you writing?swhen they occur, popping up in conversation like fresh green sprouts, new and hopeful.
People who do not consider themselves writers do not ask Are you writing? but instead lead with What are you writing? Suggesting that an onlooker perceives the writer as always writing, as if the presence of writing in a writer’s life is a continuous action verb.
I like to think that when I am asked or when I ask Are you writing? it comes from a place of love and hope, of familiarity and community, from encouragement.
I keep an etymological dictionary on the floor under my desk. My feet rest on it when I sit. During the pandemic, I have been fortunate to remain employed, set-up at home in front of my screens five days a week during standard business hours. The dictionary is on the floor because my at-home desk and chair had never been put to use full-time and I found myself with new aches that lessened with a thick, old book under my feet. This positioning could be viewed as disrespectful and yet, I look up words now more than ever before.
Masks remain securely affixed in my corner of the world. The protests are steady. I am grappling with Are you writing. How to write during a global fraying and how not to? And yet.
According to my dictionary the original sense of the act of writing was to score, as in “to cut slightly.” A marking in three dimensions, shallow slit dipping down but not through. Opening alters and communicates without obliterating. How purposeful and excitingly reckless, a comfort! I put the book back under my feet and again feel a bit of remorse doing so. My ankles are once-again grateful. I return to the work.
If to write is to score, the writer becomes one who leaves a distinguishable notching – a slash with meaning. The act of writing contains an aggression, as all movement does. To write is to alter for purpose, play, or pleasure. To make such a mark is a short movement that can be performed over long stretches of time or in short bursts. Sometimes the cuts are too deep and the text is irreparable, yet also beautiful in its disaster. In this way, writing is a form of personal, active forgiveness.
Laurel Radzieski is a poet and the author of Red Mother (NYQ Books, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Atlas and Alice, Rust + Moth, Kosmos Journal, Glintmoon, SPLASH! and elsewhere, including on roadsides and a street sign in Wisconsin. She earned her MFA from Goddard College. Laurel was a 2015 writer-in-residence at the Wormfarm Institute and she recently spoke at TEDxScranton about writing poems for strangers. She can be found online at www.laurelradzieski.com.