why we write: sean conner

22 Nov
The following is the first installment of “Why We Write,” a series of personal reflections on the craft of writing. Each installment is poignant in its own way, but in sum the series is a sincere and astounding collection of thoughts, emotions, and ambitions regarding the profession of writing. Take of each what you will.

:: :: ::

Sean Conner

I attended the baptism on a Sunday. I stood on the sand of a fake beach and watched a pastor tilt the heads of people into the stillness of Clinton Lake and bring them to Jesus. I always assumed God’s water, the holy stuff, the H-2-O of rituals and ceremonies, had to be blessed and ordained by some spiritual guru like the Pope, or an archbishop, or their hierarchal equivalents in other Christian denominations. It was hard to imagine that the molecules of holy water and the molecules of the water in this man-made lake were the same. Well, the molecules would be the same, but there’s my assumption that holy water has a little more magic powder thrown in. Some vestige of authority. Holy water, by my understanding, hadn’t been idly weaving towards shore day after day. Holy water doesn’t have gasoline in it, or fish shit. At the edge of the water I think about this and have a tough time disassociating this baptism from summer afternoons at the pool and the friendly dunking that oft ensued. 

There were one to two hundred people on the shore watching this baptism, plus a few more clusters of people who happened to be on the beach or near it, under a copse of trees or at picnic tables, watching the clouds and the enjoying the day. A pack far down the coast shared a twelve pack of Bud Light.

I know this because, as our congregation walked towards the beach, two of them had walked among us, the first a young girl with large sunglasses and a teal headband; the other a heavy set guy in a yellow t-shirt and athletic shorts. At first I thought they were with us, and I smiled at the girl, her talking on a cell phone, looking for her friends. Friends who I thought were more of us, some of the throng heading to the beach, until I saw the guy holding a Bud Light in his left hand and a case of the same in his right and figured that they were looking for other friends out here on the beach, and how odd it must be for them to be caught up in this large pack moving to the water for what they had no idea would be nine baptisms.

“Holy water, by my understanding, hadn’t been idly weaving towards shore day after day. Holy water doesn’t have gasoline in it, or fish shit.”

As I stood on the shore, too far away from the pastor in the water to hear what was being said or promised, I wondered what the people in the water were laughing about. There were lots of hugs, and the inductees wiped away tears or lake water.

I remember one in particular. Leaving the water, he walked towards me, soaked and shivering, his white t-shirt thinned by water, revealing tones of flesh underneath. He passed through the spectators, a trail of darkening sand behind him, until he reached an older man just feet in front of me. His father. The two embraced for what felt like a long time. And the father said, “This is for your mother too,” and the boy squeezed tighter. The Livestrong bracelet on his wrist slipped down his arm. All I managed to do was stare at the water streaming off the boy’s trunks and onto his father’s left shoe. A type of loafer, the leather darkened as the water spread over it, the tan turning muddy, the shoe’s veneer of assured professionalism slowly being rinsed away. That left foot never flinched, despite the father’s awareness of the shoe and the growing stain, until the hug was finally over.

Upon release, the boy noticed the shoe and apologized, and the father said it’s no big deal. This is what good fathers are for, I remember thinking, as the last few people emerged from the water. A good father is there to let his children drip water on his shoes for as long as it takes to make the world seem okay.

At the time, I had been attending Vintage for four months, and that Sunday afternoon at the beach I made the effort to introduce myself to the pastor, Seth. The urge had been lingering for a while, though it was outweighed by my pretensions and nerves, by the fact that I didn’t subscribe to his faith. But each Sunday, I had enjoyed his sermons, the way his mind processed theology, and the way he made religion a bit more tangible. In a way, Seth had a mind like a writer. He had a voice, a means of conveying information that was not only capable and authoritative, but honest and mediated. His words held some semblance of weight.

“Some things are worth holding on to. Writing, for me, is one of those things.”

When I initially wrote this piece, it was to answer the question of “why I write,” and I used this idea of weight as my reason for writing. “Though we’re all left to choose which words will weigh us down,” I wrote, “I write because I want my words to feel like stones, to heft some of my weight onto others, to get them to lug them around a bit, dropping them if they aren’t worth the energy.”

I continued with an admonition of the selfishness of such a stance, and a weak supposition that, if a person wasn’t willing to spend some time with my words, with their weight, then what else do I have.

Initially written over a year ago, I reread this and laughed at the sheer rubbish of it. Perhaps true at the time, this raison de writing holds little validity for me today. As I return to the scene on the beach, I’m instead struck by that continued resilience of the father. The idea that, despite the inconvenience, some things are worth holding on to. Writing, for me, is one of those things. It’s something I’ve held onto, however sparsely, because it feels like the thing to do. Not a right thing or a wrong thing, but just a Sunday afternoon under the sun in spring, where across the lake the reflection of a windshield sparks over the dam and there’s nothing else to be done but presume to lend a rationale to a moment that’s best left alone.

:: :: ::

“Why We Write” originated as part of Hostel Tuesdays, a writer’s collective that meets in the south study room on the seventh floor of Chicago’s downtown library. It meets on Wednesdays.

2 Responses to “why we write: sean conner”


  1. why we write: michael danaher « Read::Zebra - November 28, 2011

    […] authors: Sean Conner. Share this:ShareTwitterEmailFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. why we write: timothy schuler « Read::Zebra - December 7, 2011

    […] authors: Sean Conner, Michael Danaher. Share this:ShareTwitterEmailFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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