“How can I know what I think till I see what I say?”
—E. M. Forster
Sub Rosa, meaning under the rose, was a term used in ancient Rome to mean something happening or done in secret. I learned this phrase my junior year of high school in Mrs. Bean’s creative writing class from Ashley, a girl who would be in every creative writing class I would have at Viewmont High. She had a black, horseshoe nose-ring that looked more like two tufts of hair coming out each nostril. She intrigued me.
“The Romans,” Ashley explained, “would hang dried roses from the ceilings of their secret meetings.” Mrs. Bean loved the phrase, so Ashley and I took a handful of fake roses and hung them from the ceiling panels of our creative writing room. From then on what each person in that class shared would stay in that room. That semester was the first time I felt the intimacy of writing, the nakedness of writing freely.
In the following semesters, I began to write all the time, everywhere. I would write during lunch, while waiting for piano lessons, between homework assignments, and at the dinner table until I was ordered to put the notebooks down. Most of what I wrote was of little consequence, but I noticed that I was beginning to do more than just write—I was beginning to see things. I began noticing little things I had never seen before—the way Sarah’s lips were thin, the way the maroon carpets of Viewmont were actually a CMYK pattern and not maroon at all, and the way the model’s leotard in my art class caught the light so that a tiny strip of white would highlight each rib when she breathed in. Writing was giving me eyes, and I was writing to discover the sub-rosa within me.
I have learned that so much of understanding comes from writing. So much of discovery comes from writing. There is something about writing that peels you down to the bone, slips you free of your skin and leaves you to meditate on what was there inside of you.
The process of writing is to discover. Frost describes that “it begins in delight and ends in wisdom . . . it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life . . . a momentary stay against confusion. . . . It has an outcome that . . . must be more felt than seen ahead, like prophecy. It must be a revelation, or a series of revelations, as much for the poet as for the reader.”
The excitement of writing is discovering what you did not know you had inside you, allowing yourself to be delighted again and again by the discoveries; and in turn, the reader will be delighted.
When I left high school, Mrs. Bean gave me Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. In it, Rilke tells a young Franz Kappus that “above all—ask yourself . . . must I write? . . . Build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” I have found that for many of us, writing has become just such an urge, and that writing is what we turn to, and not just in the crucibles of our lives. Maybe it isn’t the first thing we turn to, but eventually we find our way to the keyboard, or to the pen and Moleskine. It is a process that has proven cathartic, introspective, and even spiritual for many of us.
I believe that at its most fundamental level, Inscape is a delight and a discovery of what God has given us: our bodies, our imagination, the world around us, and particularly language. Everything that makes us who we are is at the heart of our writing. As we delight in the writing process, we eventually arrive at some clarification of life—discover some sub-rosa, some secret about life.
As we begin discovering and delighting in writing, I think it is important to remember what Rilke says, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” And we are the creators of our own lives.
So I hope, more than anything, that Inscape will do more than delight you. I hope it causes that urge within you to write and discover something about your life, something secret you didn’t know you knew.
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