why i write
I had a brief text conversation with Rebecca this morning on a not-so-deep topic. Buried in between text message whales, she asked why a particular male friend and I have no romantic history between us. The answer was, first, “I actually don’t know,” and then an admission on my end, “I think we have learned that the problem is usually me.”
I spent the better part of my day working on constructing an essay around that thought and the idea that it is customary to blame problems in relationships on a failure of the opposite party to connect. I have, in my mind, an argument for owning up to one’s own failures, a nod to the simple reality that sometimes the problem is you. In this too, I seem to be failing: I have written, frowned, gone for a walk, written, stared, taken a nap, written, stared, read and re-read Joan Didion’s “On Self-Respect” over and over. I have a fuzzy sense of what the piece needs to look like; I cannot make it work. These moments happen to anyone who has ever bothered to put words on a page, and they are maddening and they will seriously fuck with your sense of who you are in relation to the things you credit yourself as capable of.
Eventually if you are me, you wind up somewhere inside a pile of The National videos on YouTube, wondering what is wrong with you that you can’t put words together like Matt Berninger.
It is times like this when you need reminders: not reminders of why famous people who are better at life than you write but of why you, yourself, as a person, write (or draw, or do whatever it is you do that you secretly consider yours). You should probably write it down and keep it somewhere because you might need it when you are wondering why you can’t just spend all of your spare time watching sitcoms and not having hopes and dreams.
Like most people who write, I write because I have to. I have worked, in fact, not to write: I gave up creative writing at nineteen, I gave up academic writing at twenty-three, I gave up music writing at twenty-six. I looked forward to living my life after that, but what happened was that the thing that defined my days was not what I filled them with. Rather, every day was a day I hadn’t written. That absence is a heavy, heavy weight, and eventually I gave into it and slowly began to put words into the world again. Only now am I a person who bakes cookies, drinks Scotch, goes to parties. When I am writing, those things feel meaningful; when I am not, they feel like wasted time.
I ran into an ex-boyfriend in a bar a few weeks ago. He was quick to ask if I had been writing, and he looked so incredibly happy when I said yes. Sometimes you find out that the strangest candidates have been rooting for you, and that they miss the way that you use words, and it would be a huge lie for me to say that is not part of why I do this. There is no one in this world who doesn’t hope that they change other people just a tiny bit, and I have the sense that this is the only tool I have that allows me to live that through. I was not given a wide range of skills when I was put on this earth. This is the thing that I got, and so I use it.
There is another reason, too, and it is a bit more obtuse. It’s about letting people into your life in a way that I think is important, and it’s about the importance of letting other people edit you so that you get to be better in the process. This happens naturally in life through conversation and critique, but to be able to apply this in a more tactile manner is a stunning and wonderful thing. I have spent a lot of time around people in bands, and I have always envied the way that a band dynamic can ease the pressure of creation through collaboration. It gets portrayed as a tense process because people really like to focus on drama, but at the end of the day it is comforting to think that your ideas have a small team of people working with you to help them come to fruition.
The writer doesn’t have bandmates.
To make up for this, I require possibly more encouragement than most, and it tends to say a lot about the people I choose to send things to for revisions and feedback. It means that I trust you, and that I think you are smarter than I am, and that I think you would probably enjoy being let into the corners of my brain where things get invented. There are people like Sienna who automatically love whatever I do and are good for the ego, if not for revisions; there are people like Rebecca who read a two-part short story and write back, with love, “WHAT?” These responses work together to help me figure out where to go next. Eventually, they become the audience that I write for in the first place, and I start anticipate the revisions and the “ooh” moments as I write them.
I don’t have a better way of expressing exactly what this does for me than saying this. When I write, I become the person that you want me to be.
It is not easy to remember all of the above things when you spend a lot of time working on words that you don’t get paid to write, when you feel like you don’t have the words you need, or when you are fairly sure you’ve never had even a single good idea in your whole life and maybe you should just stop talking altogether. It’s really hard to make art when you’re worried about making bad art. The thing that is hardest to remember is that all of these frustrations are easier for me than not making art at all. What you love, like who you love, is not a choice.