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Small Wonders: It's time to claim your voice

April 20, 2012|By Patrick Caneday

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander.... This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” — Anne Lamott

Last week, I was honored to serve as the master of ceremonies for the Cabrini Literary Guild's creative writing awards luncheon. With a mission to stimulate interest in Catholic literature, thought and action through its philanthropic endeavors, the guild holds an annual writing competition open to Catholic high schools in the L.A. archdiocese.

In today's climate of diminishing support for the arts, not enough can be said about benevolent groups that foster the dreams and aspirations of those who have stories to tell and are compelled to present them as a humbling, enlightening mirror to the world. Here, briefly, are a few of the rhinestones of wisdom I gave to the gathered young writers.

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Writing is a solitary art, birthed in the frightening space between one's own ears before exposing it for all to see. So it is imperative that writers, like all artists, seek each other out. Few others will understand what demons and angels compel you to take raw substance and alchemize it into coherent expressions of fear, love, anger, jealousy and humanity. You need to know you're not crazy for finding joy sitting at a computer for hours on end mashing and remashing words together.

Like all craftsmen, you'll need adequate tools in your tool chest. I'm not talking about a laptop with Wi-Fi so you can join the other squatters at Starbucks all day. The real tools are more elusive than that.

The first is courage. You must be willing to say things that you are afraid to say; to expose parts of yourself you find so embarrassing, hideous and repulsive that you'd sooner watch a Pauly Shore movie marathon than have anyone find out.

But, your feelings, emotions and thoughts are real. And universal. So you must be willing to be honest, vulnerable and even disliked in order to express the truth as you understand it. Because when you do that, you speak for countless suffering strangers who can't.

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