Letter from the Director – February 2023

Focused and Unfocused:
Why It’s OK to Be Both

A few years ago, I was very into photography. I even took a course to better grasp the language of the art: aperture, f-stop, focus, depth of field, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, etc. While I understood a lot of what was taught, there were some things that confused me. For instance, I couldn’t wrap my mind around f-stops. (A measure of the aperture opening in the lens defined by dividing the focal length of the lens by the aperture diameter. What??!!!) Then, cell phone cameras started improving and the ease of handling one device, as opposed to a camera body plus a variety of heavy lenses, made me rethink my budding interest. One term, however, remained a significant word for me, especially as I turned my attention to building a writers’ colony. That word was “Focus.”

We all know what that word means. In photography, it means a central point of attraction or attention. It’s important to the composition of the picture to have a focal point, to have an area of focus. I want to expand the idea of focusing and attach it to writing. In this context, focus means to concentrate or direct one’s efforts towards a particular end. If we focus on a writing project intently, chances are it will be completed. 

That seems very straightforward. Because my brain likes to complicate things 😉 I started contemplating what it might mean to our writing if we fell out of focus for a short time, if we allowed our thinking to blur – just enough to permit a different sort of “seeing” into our work. To me, this aligns with another concept I read about lately. It’s the difference between resting in certainties and remaining open to possibilities. 

This might seem counterproductive to our pursuit of finishing our writing projects, but follow me down this rabbit hole for a minute. If we have the answers, if every part of our work is unshakably in focus, if we have predetermined every outcome, then we have also limited our creative selves. Sturdy answers close the door to opportunities, to new thinking and new creativity, and to the magic of allowing a piece of writing to embody its own destiny. It reminds me of what my poetry mentor used to tell me: “Get out of the way of your poem!” I used to argue back, “But I’ve already decided what this poem needs to be!” He would reply gently, “The poem knows better than you do.” He was right.

I often think I have the answers and that I’m a powerhouse when it comes to focusing. When I allow different focal points, even areas of “unfocus,” to speak into my writing, my writing expands into places I couldn’t even dream of. This month, I challenge you to loosen the reins of your focus a little bit, to open yourself to the possibility of different answers, and to see beyond your determined plans into fields of vision that might hold something surprising and beautiful, something that even an f-stop wouldn’t be able to measure or control.