Why I Write (And It's Not What You Think)
(Sing to the tune of Des'ree) "I wanna be bad, I wanna be bold, I wanna be a writer..."
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“So… do you have a ‘day job’? You know, other than teaching?”
I blink twice. Even with those two blinks of preparation, my response still tumbles out, the syllables muddled together in all the wrong places. “I’m a writer.”
I continue to bristle at the noun, barely aware of the progressing conversation. The title feels foreign, like I snuck into a club with a fake ID and somehow became “a regular”. And now everyone knows me by my given name – i.e. given to me by the sketchy forger off Craigslist.
I’m a wanna-be. A phony. A fraud.
The truth is, I don’t like writing. It’s torturous. It beckons me. It pushes me away. It forces me to stare at all the trinkets and figurines I’ve shoved in a closet so full that one hand must grope the wobbly tower to keep it in place, while the other hand muscles the door shut.
This is writing. The re-opening of the sliding door. The spill of forgotten objects on the floor at your feet, when you hoped they would only disappear.
I’d like it better if the notebook actually mocked me. It would give me grounds for complaint. But in actuality, it just sits there. Inanimate. Uncaring. Apathetic. The suffering is purely my own doing.
That’s another thing I hate about writing. It’s just as self-inflicting as it is self-soothing. How do you stitch a wound closed? You have to open it up, flush it out, and dislodge the dirt and debris. Only then can you suture it shut without risking infection.
Writing is the entire process. The weeping road-rash, the feigning, and the begrudging gaze into the wound. It’s the pain, the purging, the stitching, and if we’re lucky, the eventual healing.
Before high school, I never knew writing could be anything other than a response to lackluster homework assignments. Accept boring topic. Write boring lead-in sentences and supplementary boring paragraphs. Add a boring closing statement. Turn in boring compilation of words. Get one, boring letter grade in return.
By happenstance, things veered off-course. It was the year I got my driver’s license, started hanging out with the “drama kids”, and had to get my foot x-rayed after my mare’s hoof landed squarely on my paddock boot. It was tenth grade. And on day one, our new English teacher pulled out a timer.
She was going to have us do this thing called “free writing”. No talking. Just write. Yes, you heard me right. Move–your–pen. Ready, go. The best part was, she wouldn’t grade our notebooks or even read our passages – as long as there were words, any words, on the page.
She was either choosing to expose us to the joy and terror of an unbridled world – one filled with chaos and scattered puzzle pieces, void of pretty containers and property lines – or maybe she just wanted ten precious minutes to herself where she didn’t have to hold space for twenty-five, hormone-pumping fifteen year olds. In retrospect, her motive is moot. And I don’t blame her one bit if it’s the latter.
As soon as that timer began, I found the earth beneath my feet. I resurrected things right in the pages of that spiral-bound notebook. I combed through them. I let sand slip between my fingers and watched how the grains scattered and fell.
My affair with writing had begun. Not a love, but a polarizing passion. Fervor meets agony.
Eventually, that faded red notebook was buried in a Tupperware alongside yearbooks from middle school and love notes from my first boyfriend. When I went to university, I forgot all about it.
Free writing was replaced with all-nighters, scientific papers, and an eating disorder I clung to with all my might as I reached for some semblance of control. There was nothing unbridled. There was no place for chaos. Not in my schoolwork, not in my life, and not on my dinner plate. I had forgotten what it was like to surrender between the lines.
I found that notebook over ten years later. I had moved on from college but was still the girl grasping for control. In some ways, I still am.
As I flipped through forgotten pages, squinting to see my fifteen-year-old-self scrawling her life in ten-minute chunks, raw ink and honesty leered back at me. Her roaming eyes looked around at my cookie-cutter life. Her metal spine missed my wild musings. She longed once more for words that tumbled from dirty blonde hair onto a laminate desk. Words driven by hormones, fear, and an addiction to perfectionism. Where have you been? She asked me.
I started a blog that month. I was twenty-six. I gave that blog a pen name. It was easier that way, like it wasn’t really mine. Like she could feel all of the shame and guilt and I could close the notebook and walk away with clean hands.
Whenever I hit publish, I got the feeling I was lifting a lantern into the sky. And just at the moment it was too heavy to hold with outstretched arms, I was setting it free. It could float amongst the stars or whip wildly in a storm. It didn’t matter because it was no longer mine to hold. It wasn’t a kite, there was no string, and I was no longer an anchor.
There was lightness as it circulated a world beyond my own. An unclenched fist, a deep sigh.
Soon after, my posts began to multiply like cottontails in springtime. I’d carve out more hours with pen-in-hand. And then more questions arose. And more, still.
It didn’t really matter that I didn’t know the answers. There was potency in the asking. And I’d get close. Close enough to reach out and feel the air around the answers. It felt like fishing with bare hands; the feel of a current from whipped fins, though I was never quite able to grasp slippery scales.
But the reaching… that’s where I found myself. In the reach.
I don’t think my life took on new meaning when I began to write as an adult. But what I lived and breathed suddenly meant more.
Life passes in seconds. However, reliving those seconds in a notebook can stretch as long as I’d like. I can sift and reorganize pieces. Irregular, multicolored beads on a string. In an out of sequence. No fences. No boundaries.
And I’ll stop on one moment. And comb and comb and comb until the corners are gone, the edges are soft, and the moment is distilled:
Sitting on my dad’s lap and steering the single-cab truck up our steep, Santa Cruz driveway. The smell of wet dirt steaming from the softball field, which tangled decadently with the Snack Shack’s Saturday barbecue. The small TV bungeed between front seats, while four kids laid on the floor of the Astro Van, all seven hours to Disneyland. The way bull kelp loops around ankles, slimy and short-lived. Flying through the air before breaking my left arm. The first time I opened my eyes underwater.
In this world, I’m the keeper of my own time.