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Sometimes I write hollow: by Jon Swanson

13 September, 2007 Posted by Joanna As Guest Authors

This is a guest post, as you can tell from the title. It lacks grammatical accuracy, in some undefined way. You’ll understand why in a bit. If you keep reading.

But why wouldn’t you keep reading. There is something about the word hollow that resonates. (And yes, the pun is intentional). For writers, hollowness is terrifying. For musicians, hollowness is, well, music. For me, hollowness is frequent.

For reasons I do not understand, I have decided that I will be a frequent blogger. I’m not sure that it is healthy, I’m not sure that I have as much to say as screens I attempt to fill, but it’s my decision. As a result of this decision, there are days that I sit down to write and have little to say. Corporate bloggers, informative bloggers, citizen journalist bloggers, topical bloggers-all of these people have lots of options when this desert feeling occurs, but that is because they are not always attempting to trace the state of their souls. For those of us who are reporting on our deepening, for those of us who include our selfs in our posts, this desert creates a crisis.

As I sit, knowing I must write, knowing I am hollow, I am tempted to fill the white space with nicely turned phrases. I can do that. I have done that. I can point you to examples. However, I needs must resist that temptation as often as possible.

At those times of hollowness, I am tempted to complain, to write of all those situations which have caused this emptiness. A busy schedule, conversations about the brokenness of hearts and souls and bodies, uncertainty about tomorrow, let alone next year-all of these make for easy posts.

At those times of hollowness, I am tempted to just post pictures, allowing them to fill the space and to amuse my friends. And they serve to keep the flow of hits coming in my statistics.

At those times of hollowness, I am tempted to become like a pine tree.

Not just any pine tree. The pine tree which is on its side in northern Wisconsin, its 60 feet or more pointing toward the road rather than the sky. One minute it was standing, the next it began to fall. We don’t know when the wind blew, but it was a smaller wind than you might guess.

The reason this tree fell had little to do with the wind. It had everything to do with the ants which had eaten paths throughout the heart of the bottom fathom of the trunk. The tree was hollow and when the wind pushed, it fell.

If in my hollowness I cover it over in my writing, I become like a tree which covers its hollowness with a thin layer of bark. I seem to be solid, but prevent any of my friends from being able to say, “Here’s what could help, Jon. Here’s what could stop those ants. Here’s what could strengthen your heart.”

What does this have to do with authenticity in writing?


Writing when I am hollow and letting people know that I am hollow and then going on to write about life and new media and community and church gives a resonance to my words. You see, I cannot pretend that I am perfect, all the more because I have the word pastor attached to my soul. However, if I can acknowledge hope in the middle of my wrestling with life and words and the broken places people bring, then it may be possible for people to see something of value in community around what we commonly know as church.


If you clean out the rotten wood where the ants have worked and you peel off the bark which covered the problem, and you cut the log into varying lengths, and you cover the end of each of those tubes with some membrane, you have music.

And so sometimes I write hollow. And sometimes you hear music.

Jon Swanson is an associate pastor who likes to use story to help people understand what they already know at the Levite Chronicles blog.  He also tackles some of the hard questions about writing and what it means to write with authenticity, from the heart - like this piece: no going back

Photo credits for the wood picture to Jon’s son Andrew

Jon is guest authoring at Confident Writing as part of the September focus on writing with authenticity.

To get future articles you might want to subscribe to the free RSS feed. You'll find more writing tips in the Confident Writing archive. Thanks for visiting!

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Categories : Guest Authors

Joanna YoungNo Gravatar September 13, 2007

Jon, this is such a powerful piece of writing, thank you. It moves me to tears each time I read it.

And yes, I do hear the music.


JonNo Gravatar September 13, 2007

Thanks, Joanna. You are creating a wonderful space for us.

paul merrill September 13, 2007

Good stuff!

And a great reminder of our need to share. Out of our hollowness and brokenness.

Joanna YoungNo Gravatar September 13, 2007

Jon - thanks for teaching me that this is what I’m doing! Sometimes it takes someone else to help us see what’s going on :-)
And thanks so much for your description of my work today (link below for other readers) - it’s a tremendous compliment - and pretty close impression of my sitting room!


Joanna YoungNo Gravatar September 13, 2007

Hi Paul, it’s good to hear from you - I’m glad that Jon’s writing brought you here :-)
I guess that many of us write to share, to make a connection - and writing like this - so searingly honest - is a powerful way of making those connections, and helping us to see that we’re not alone…


JonNo Gravatar September 13, 2007

The photo is our living room. And hi to Paul who understands.

Emma Bird September 14, 2007

Hi Jon.

I enjoyed your take on the ‘hollowness’ and what stops us from writing. Most of all, I relished the penultimate paragraph. Thanks.


Joanna YoungNo Gravatar September 14, 2007

Emma, I like that paragraph too. It works on so many different levels - and not just about our writing…


JonNo Gravatar September 14, 2007

depending on what counts as a paragraph, i will confess to reading it now and saying, Yes, that’s pretty good. The reason I can do the third personing is that I often look at what I write and think, “if only i could live that. If only i had applied that 12 hours after writing it.”

Thanks, Emma, for stopping by and for the encouragement.

And hi Joanna.

Rosa Say September 14, 2007

I loved reading your essay Jon. It is honest and giving, and you are a very intuitive writer. Joanna, as mea ho‘okipa you are helping us understand how authenticity and our willingness to be vulnerable with each other can reveal such wonder.

Hollow is a great word, just as ‘shallow’ is a favorite for me. It is one of those words that entice us to reason and justify … no, it’s more capacity, room and space … but if we instead choose to be okay with it being what it is, it reveals its own real goodness.

As an aside Jon, your son’s picture is what was struck me initially with a flood of memory before reading your words: We had a majestic ficus tree in our side yard that was one day felled by a tropical storm because it had been completed inhabited by a colony of carpenter bumblebees. It just narrowly missed our house, and would have done extensive damage to our roof had the wind blown it just slightly left-wise. We chipped most of it into mulch, but kept a good part of the stump at the urging of my benevolent children urging “the bees still have to live somewhere mom!” The wood looks just like your picture now, the bees long gone in search of a bigger home —and my kids still resolute that we need to keep the stump as is for the bees’ “Waikoloa vacations.”

JonNo Gravatar September 14, 2007

thanks so much, Rosa, for your own picture of the tree.

And the thought of expanding into space rather than holding it, what a wonderful insight.

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