This is an excerpt from a Writelighters podcast conversation with Marie Lukasik Wallace, a conscious writer, poet, and writing workshop facilitator from Boise, Idaho. She is the founder of the Love and Romance Conference: Discovering Your Happily Ever After. Visit her websites at writingwings.com and mariesgold.com.
You’ve been writing since you were a teenager, during a dark period when you were trying to make sense of the world. As an adult, why is it so important that you continue to write?
There are so many reasons to write—to know what I'm thinking about because sometimes it feels like I'm confused. So I'll sit and I'll write. Sometimes it's to get the ugly out, sometimes I just need to organize my thinking. Sometimes it's just to express love and wonder and the joys that I see in the world. Just making little discoveries. It gives me the opportunity to be a scientist and a discoverer and a romantic person. And it also creates change. I think one thing I've discovered about writing is that you can use it to change the channel. So when things are ugly—either inside or out in your world—you can change the channel with words. I think it's a powerful tool for change.
Speaking of change, the author James Baldwin said, "You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality then you can change it." When did you first begin to realize that your words could be transformative?
I get so excited about that because feeling like you can change something, even in a millimeter, is exciting to me. When I started poetry therapy, I felt that it enlightened me quite a bit about how we can change the channel in things I would witness. The way that poetry therapy works is, basically, you use a poem to discuss things and we would be discussing that and we kind of write out the darkness and then we would introduce material that would be a little bit more enlightening or just a little shift. And to watch people move—you know, actually feel that energy shift in the room—was very enlightening.
It was just a beautiful thing to witness, how the power of words could just make even a small change in people and to watch them leave with hope, with Grace, with acceptance of even the negative things that have happened in their lives. And that when things are bad or get whacked out, we can always change the channel and notice our blessings. When I was interviewing my dad the last year of his life, we had been doing these daily discussions. And I had been writing his story and he said, "Thank you very much, you gave me my life back." And witnessing that in someone who was a very closed person just really showed how the power of words matter.
They do matter and we have to understand that words have the power to either build people up or break them down. When I was a child, I was given some very bad advice about words and you probably did, too: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. How do you feel when you hear that?
I think it's the most horrible statement that was ever written in the world! I think words matter, you know. I feel that if I broke my bone, I could mend it and it would be pretty close to new but I know that that you can't take words back. When I was teaching first grade, I would do a demo every year where I had a kid who would take out the toothpaste. I'd give him a tube of toothpaste and I'd say "Squeeze it all out" and then I would say "Now try to push that back in." And I used that as an example, that you squeeze all those words out without any filters or thinking or anything and you can't take them back. You can't undo them and the damage that they can cause are astronomical. You just can't take them back.
I agree. The great peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi said you must be the change you wish to see in the world and that's a quote we've heard over and over again. For writers who want to create positive change, how important do you think it is for us to know ourselves first?
I don't know that we ever really know ourselves. I think it's a journey as we evolve and learn. I think writing helps us get in touch with who we are and how we think but I don't know that it's a necessary thing because I feel that we're always learning and growing and evolving. So I don't know that we ever really know ourselves and why wait, right, if we're gonna be a positive change? You know, if we wait until we know ourselves then we're not in action.
Besides being an accomplished writer and poet, you are also a devoted humanitarian who travels to India and Africa to help make a difference. You have been a speaker at an economic forum, talking about healing through the Arts. You have distributed food and supplies. What makes you so passionate about this work?
I fell in love with people, in general, and I know that there's a disparity that I feel. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to really have an effect, but when I went to India and we gave some health things out I just saw the gratitude from some people who were just so thankful for having shampoo and soap and things that we take for granted. And it just stirred something in me. To see that and in little things—going to school and education in Africa. The humanitarian work that we're going to do is to buy a cow and that we buy from their farmer. It helps the farmer and then we bring it to a school and then the school has milk for a year. To me as a teacher and an educator, it’s exciting to know that I can make a small difference for a group of people.
Hopefully, others will follow your lead. You have written about flowers, children dying, grief, alcoholism, and Alzheimer’s. Is there any subject matter that you are not compelled to write about?
I don't believe in censorship, even for myself. There are probably some topics that I don't naturally gravitate to but I want to make sure that I don't box myself into not thinking about any subject matter so that I can get closer to the truth. So for me truth really matters. So if I censor myself on exploring those truths, then I won't get to dig deep enough to find out what is true for me. While there's some things that I don't naturally gravitate to I don't think I would say to myself to not talk about anything.
Sometimes writing the truth is very painful, but you say that truth really matters. As writers, how do we find the courage to write the truth while building trust with our readers?
That is a very delicate balance. I think the best way is to be real and honest and even vulnerable as possible, so that when people are listening to your work they know the why. Knowing the why I'm speaking the way I am sometimes allows people to understand my work a little bit better. I think it's just a balance all the time of just making sure I'm as real and honest as possible.
So while you are being as real and honest as possible, what has been your biggest obstacle?
For me, laying down the truth and doing it in a way that doesn't hurt someone or hurt as little as possible. Right now I'm working on a book that was a collaboration with my father and there were a lot of very negative things and to tell the whole story you have to tell the negative and the positive. And to do that in a way that is honoring two people and laying out the story of overcoming. Sometimes it's a little painful and I think the balance of telling the story and being sensitive to the people involved in the stories is probably the biggest obstacle for me.
I have never met a writer who didn’t have a mentor or author they admired, and I was delighted to learn that you and I both feel a kinship to the late author and poet Maya Angelou. She and I were both born in St. Louis, Missouri and—like you—I was introduced to her writing through her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Since then, I have read many of her books and I think her poem, "Still I Rise", is brilliant. But I’ve never written a poem that I dedicated to her, but you did. Why was Maya Angelou such an inspiration to you?
I just love watching her on TV, hearing her voice—so eloquently—and knowing how she took some terrible, tragic things in her life and transformed them and used them to strengthen not only herself but to empower and strengthen others, especially women. And going from having no voice to becoming a voice for the world. I can't tell you how many quotes I've saved of hers. But I just remember her saying something like the most beautiful sound in the whole world is the human voice and I can relate to that. I love hearing people speak their truth and to be empowered and to stand in and own who they are. And I think she's the perfect example of that and she was peace. She always met adversity with peace.
I agree, and one of her many pearls of wisdom was "Doing right may not be expedient. It may not be profitable, but it is good for the soul." I read somewhere that one of the challenges of trying to manifest positive change is that change is never-ending. So we might be successful in making one change but we have to continue making changes for it to have much impact. Do you think this is true?
Oh, yeah. I think that we have to constantly be learning and growing and evolving, to be the best selves that we can be. And I feel that we're on this planet for that very reason, just to continue to grow and to learn as much as we possibly can and then, in turn, use that in a way that helps others and helps the world.
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