Blowing on Coals

6-hainesI write to blow on coals. I see it as sacred work, trying to gather my experience and insight and understanding of truth, as in a bellows, and send it out, hoping that it might find coals that are just waiting for this gust of air to spark into flame.

For this to succeed, my writing has to be accessible. Since my goal is not just to express myself but to be of use, I need to be thoughtful about what a reader needs from me. I may have important things to say, but if my words come out too clinical or too strident, too technical or too personalized, too long-winded or too terse, they are like a building with no way to the entrance. I hate to see a good idea lost to a potential user for lack of a ramp.

I’ve heard it said that if you want to be a fisher of people, you have to use yourself as bait. This means showing more than my grand and polished conclusions; I must include my stumbling efforts to arrive at them as well. When I’ve written about parenting, where everybody feels inadequate, vulnerable, criticized, and judged, I often choose to lead with my dilemmas and mistakes.

Sometimes the ramp is there, but the writing is just clunky and awkward, creating dozens of little stumbling blocks. My first drafts are always in this state. What a pleasure to work on writing that has potential—mine and others’—smoothing out the language and allowing the content to flow more easily. It can be like sculpting, taking a big rough block whose shape is hidden inside, and carving away to reveal that shape in all its elegance and power.

Sometimes I translate. When I find something written by an economist, for example, that might illuminate a dark place or point a way forward if only it could be understood, I start by reading it for myself. I let it work in me, flow through me, become mine, then put it back out in language that is more likely to be accessible to ordinary people, and in a context that invites them in.

I aspire to be Everywoman, telling a story that many can intuitively recognize as their own, one that starts on common territory then leads on, past where they may have traveled before. I hope to provide others with “aha” moments, to offer solid ground on which to stand, to nudge people off stuck places of numbness or inattention or despair, to give them heart to stretch and try something new.

If I can write in that light and power that allows my words to speak to the condition of others, to be a blessing to them, then I truly feel that I have received a blessing in return.

Pamela Haines

Pamela Haines is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting and clerks the Friends Economic Integrity Project. She has deep connections in Poland, Nicaragua, and northern Uganda; is passionate about growing food, supporting young children, reaching across class and race lines, quilting, and repair of all kinds; and blogs at

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