Monday, October 3, 2016

Why I Write

I write for the same reason I eat food, drink water, and walk, and do yoga.  There’s something inside me that insists upon it.

Some people don’t need to write.  I envy them, because they apparently don’t have this inner nag chirping away all the time, telling them, always and always: write, already.  These people write as much as is required,  perhaps because it is required—to pass a class, to write a note excusing a kid from school, to create a report for a boss, to send an email breaking up with someone.  And some people don’t write at all.  Right?  These people sign documents, maybe, or their kid’s math test.  That’s it.  These are perfectly happy, successful, secure people. 

I write because my soul needs it.

As a little girl, before I even knew how to read, I filled spiral notebooks with nonsense words and letters. When I learned what words could say, I intensified:  I wrote and wrote and wrote, becoming a young, amateur poet and storyteller. In junior high, my grandmother bought me an electric typewriter—which I wanted more than anything else, ever, in my whole life—and I taught myself to type.  My writing could come out faster, so my output increased even more.  Pages, I tell you.  I’ve filled thousands and thousands of pages of thoughts, stories, poems, and songs.  For ever, I’ve been like that.

Since then, there is the writing I’ve done as a college student, an English teacher, a principal, and now a blogger and author—stuff I’ve shared with the world, safe stuff, things that don’t really draw criticism or input. 
I quit writing, once.

As a young person, I wrote about intensely private, personal things.  Heartbreak, anger, love, confusion, angst, bliss.  All of it.  I chronicled it in leather-bound journals I couldn’t afford, but bought anyway because they felt soft and forgiving to my hands.

But my last year of college, I went to stay with my parents for a long weekend.  I brought my journal; of course I did.  A few months earlier, I’d documented the painful story of my first sexual encounter; it was raw and confused, and it exposed my deepest self.  My subsequent entries revisited that hazy and painful night, and revealed my attempt to understand myself and how I fit into this new set of experiences—experiences astonishingly joyless and difficult.   After lunch on Sunday, I packed my things to go back to school.  Somewhere along the frigid and empty stretch of I-90 toward Meadville, I realized, with a thunk to my heart:  I’d left my journal on the bedside table in my childhood bedroom.  I pulled to the side of the highway to breathe.  The thought of anyone finding it, and reading it, made me feel dizzy with—with what?  Fear?  Shame?  Dread?  I considered turning around and going back, but it wasn’t feasible; I was scheduled to work a shift at Red Lobster in just a few hours.  I just didn’t have the six hours it would take to get home, retrieve the journal, and get back.   

With no other options, I called my sister.  She lived just a couple miles from my parents’ house.  “I have a big favor,” I said, in the weird way we ask someone for trust.  “My journal.  It's on my table.  Will you please go get it for me?” I pleaded.  “If Mom and Dad find it, I’ll die.  I’ll seriously die.” 

“I’ll get it.”  I imagined her shrug.  “No big thing.”  

“And please don’t read it,” I begged.  “Just leave it closed, okay?  Please.  Please?  I’ll come back next weekend to get it.” 

I knew better, of course.  What does anyone do when implored to not read something?  Even more so when it’s juicy stuff written by a little sister?

I drove home five days later, as soon as my last Friday class ended.  I went straight to my sister’s house.  When she handed me the journal, I could tell from her face that she’d read it.  Of course she had.  I would have, had I been in her position.

Though not surprised, still I felt bitterly exposed, like all the pieces of me were scattered across the ground for everyone to see and talk about and walk upon.  Like someone had taken a cleaver and cut me in two. 

I drove back to school, stopping only once:  at the Flying J Travel Plaza.  I wept in the front seat of my pale blue Reliant as I ripped the journal to bits.  I shoved the whole mess down, down, down deep into the trash bin that was sandwiched between the fuel pumps.  My hand emerged, empty except a coating of ketchup from someone’s discarded hot dog.

And I vowed:  I would never, ever to write that honestly and openly again, even in a private place; the risk was too high.  I didn’t want to give away my very self to words on a page.

I quit.

Except I couldn’t. 

It was always whispering, after all:  You should write.  About that.  And that.  And that other thing. 

Now I know lots better, and lots more:  I should have recognized that anything I felt needed hiding that tightly actually should be exposed.  I should have talked about it; I should have asked my sister for a hug and a cup of coffee, rather than take my journal and flee.  Rather than rip it up and swear off writing. 

It took a long time for me to write again, in any real way.  It came slowly and in tentative, careful steps, like when you meet an old friend after a bitter but long-ago fight.  I write a lot, but I don’t keep much of it.  I write so I understand myself better; when I feel compelled to delete a piece of writing forever, I know it’s because I’m moving on.  I’m ready to let go.

But I’ll never abandon writing again—because it’s part of me, like my arms, and my breath, and my mind.

We have all heard about reasons that writing is a good for us.  We hear it from teachers, colleagues, and myriad experts.  It’s good for the mind; it builds communication skills that are necessary and transferrable to work and life; it helps us learn about ourselves; it keeps us connected to others and to the world.

All of which is very true.

For me, though: even if that all weren’t true, I would still write.  Because I can't not.  

It's that simple.  

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