By Molly Murfee
I don’t read my work in front of audiences to boost my ego. I do it because my irrefutable passion to publish a book exists without guardrails or promises, and this public act roots me in my determination, grounding me in my goal despite the grand uncertainty. I live in a constant state of plummeting off a cliff, my one foot in an eternal hover, as every single day I swallow my self-doubt, hitch up my faith, and leap. I do not know if I will find a publisher. I do not know if I will ever make one red cent from the completed work. I do not know if what I am writing is utter laughable hooey.
So when someone asks me to participate in a reading, I say “yes,” because it is here I have to stand square, hands on my hips, declaring I am on this exhilarating yet utterly unpredictable ride right in front of others. I am a writer. I am writing a book. The words and act become mantras, a stating of my intentions over and over until I march myself into their reality. The audience keeps me accountable. As I walk the streets, check my mail, rest assured they’ll ask about my progress. It’s part of the point.
And so it was, when Brooke invited me to participate in a reading held at the Center for the Arts around the Winter Solstice. I went to stand my ground in the territory I had staked, and to gain some footing. I chose a nice, seasonally appropriate chapter on the wise old woman the Cailleach, in the midst of a bunch of others smashing outdated paradigms with a sledgehammer.
I have never been just an “anything” writer, purpose drives me - to blow back these cultural tides roaring headstrong in the wrong direction, to be a part of changing this world for the better. My writing journey has been long and varied: freelancing, copywriting, editing, marketing, and teaching. Publishing a book has always been a part of it. At times I have run at that line full force. Others, I put it in the corner, exhausted, turning to other projects like paying the rent while I catch my breath and lick my wounds from the eternal submissions to magazines, awards, and residencies to prove my worthiness for such an endeavor.
“What if the world you change is the one in your very own community,” my mom said once as I bemoaned the cruelty of the publishing world.
Much of my writing is in fact using my art as activism in my local community. Thinking about the world, I tackle issues in my own backyard of overpopulation and imbalanced economics, habitat and species destruction, sustainability and stewardship. Often, I hold a mirror up to this little gaggle of black sheep making our core community, who consistently choose the path just ever so faint in the woods, individually and collectively shunning the scaffolding upholding our culture’s proclivity for materialism and greed, domination and hierarchy. I work to cultivate a culture of right relationship and action with the land and each other in my specific earthly home, while encouraging my friends and neighbors to keep on keeping on in the face of the seemingly constant adversity. It is also always my hope something I write be caught by someone visiting from afar, or someone just recently arrived, who will take those little nuggets home, and the word will spread. It is my way of making a difference, centered from the place where my feet are planted.
Our community working together to preserve the land that holds us, our gatherings to celebrate both births and deaths and all the rituals in between, matter. What we do, and how we do it, matters. How we love each other and the earth matters. Because in doing so we are showing the world there is an alternative to the dark and lonely, self-centered reality lurking outside. It is the worn-out bumper sticker of “thinking globally, acting locally” come to life, and like ripples in the pond, this influence radiates.
As I was coming to the close of my reading at the Center, I glanced up. The audience was full of people I knew, a slew of local writers, their family and friends. They didn’t need to hear my bio, they already knew it. I looked into the faces of local editors Mark and Sandy who had given me a chance when I moved here 20 years ago, and are still doing it. They’d heard these stories before, hell, they’d even printed parts of them. But they gleamed at me as if every word was a fresh realization. I traded stories with my comrades in writing – many of whom are also simultaneously pounding away on a book – of writing schedules and revisions, updating each other on our progress. Here was not competition and pecking orders. We were not threatened by each other’s presence and efforts in the same arena, only encouraged.
The world is tough, and there are huge hurdles ahead - shifting from a paradigm of exerted “power over” nature and anything daring to be outside the norm – is one of the biggest. Here, we are each heroines and heroes in our niche of practicing, rather, a paradigm of “power with.” The one who does legal battle in court for our water. Another fighting racial stereotypes with cultural education and dance. Countless others simply raising children to be inclusive, kind, and compassionate. As each of us puts our hearts out into the world, in our own daring and unique manifestations, despite whole institutions seemingly determined to march in the order they were told by their predecessors, it is often the love and support of this quirky community that gives us courage, that makes stepping off that cliff, time and time and time again, more like catching a ride on the wind.
Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Her current course – Writing Through the Changes – celebrating the seasons through journaling, meditation, creative writing and nature immersion is open for registration. Molly is also a Nature Writing Concentration faculty with the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University. Sign up for Molly’s Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.