When I attended Alma College, there was a single free space near the library, along the steps. You passed by it every day as you went from class to the library, the food court, or the dorms. Right in the middle of campus. Facing the road. Visible.
This small concrete space was free. The one unstructured place we were allowed to express ourselves.
A “free speech zone” if you will.
It mostly was an art wall, however. Pretty pictures and poetry would be chalked and then marveled for days until someone would inevitably take a bucket of water and clean it. Something new would go up.
A picture. Another poem. Or some more direct form of activism.
Every day I walked past that wall.
Every day I took in its contents, looking to see what stayed up and what gets covered over. Nothing lasting a full week. Much only a couple of days. But the better art endured. All were too afraid to remove it. The wall rarely stayed blank.
What proves I’m a lousy writer is that I never once wrote on that wall.
Not that I didn’t want to. I did.
Not that I didn’t write. I did.
Not that I didn’t have something to say. I certainly did.
I never felt that I had something better to say. Or more importantly, that I had the authority.
The excuses were many. Mostly about penmanship and imagination. Not having the right tools (some chalk). Not having the moment. Not feeling as if I had the right to wash someone else’s work away.
The real fear, I suppose, is that my poem would get washed that afternoon.
Perhaps the ending we expect out of this kind of confession is that I went back to the school and wrote on the wall later. Or that I’m going to put it on my bucket list. That to overcome the fear I had over this wall can only be exercised by writing on that particular wall. What a literal response.
No, I just need to find a new wall and write there. And I have. Writing online provides that very avenue, without the fear of erasing other people’s work. Without the fear of my work being erased. Perhaps more to the point: I can write. No distractions. No excuses.
I’d love to hear about your excuses for not doing what you were made to do. And about your walls (or white whales) that provide you with unmet challenges. Share them in the comments or email me at email@example.com. Most importantly, I hope to help you write on your own walls.