An author I’ve only read in bits and pieces once said that we digest and absorb our lives by turning them into stories. I’m not sure what my life will become – I’m less certain now than I’ve ever been – but I know I will write beautiful stories.
That sounds egotistical, and I don’t mean to be. I’m not a perfect writer. I don’t even know if I’m a good writer. I am unnecessarily fond of cliché, I can make the simplest subject matter maudlin and sentimental, I have no gift for narrative and when I find a word I like, I latch onto it and refuse to let go.
But I know I’m a writer, whether I’m a good one or not. The written word is my primary language and always has been. It’s the way I digest my life; the way I work through everything that hurts and package it into something light enough to lift. It also turns my emotions into something I can communicate. And that, to me, is the beauty and the mystery of words: that through them, something as wild and inexpressible as feelings can be clearly expressed. Language allows me to translate the wild vacillations of my heart into something other human beings with wild hearts can read, and maybe even understand.
Those are the most rare and wonderful moments; when they understand. It’s always just a piece, just a shade, to which they relate. After all, no two people have identical experiences. But it can be a reminder, if you let it, that all of us – black, white, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, American, French – are just trying to figure it out. No one’s there yet. And no one’s that far behind.
I find that I write more when I’m in crisis. Lately, my life has shifted a little further from center with every sunrise, and the words are pouring out of me. I have an enormous need to distill and categorize my experiences, both the external and the internal. (The latter is where I’ve always done most of my living.) Writing gives me the opportunity to organize my mind, to grab one of the thousands of thoughts rushing through my brain at any given moment and give it a chance to expand.
My drive to write, to break my life down into stories, is not solely a result of pain – not at all. Writing also allows me to keep a record of my life – not of events and actions but of joys and revelations. Thoughts and moods are so short-lived. Sometimes, it’s only by capturing them on paper – by smashing the book’s cover down before the butterfly flits away – that I’m able to capture them at all.
But to say that I only write when things are “good” or “bad” is to entirely miscommunicate the place of storytelling in my life. I write always. Clicked or scribbled words are my primary mode of communication for everything, from friendship to decision-making. I pray in the form of letters; in my times of greatest doubt, my cries to God are marked not by a hoarse voice but by the angry ripping of pen through paper.
So I write, and I tell stories, and I fall more in love each day. I’m so attached to my craft, if it is one, that the smallest phrase can catch in my heart and cause an almost-physical ache.
I don’t know if anything will ever come of that. I want it to; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I don’t have specific goals, exactly. I don’t dream of a poem in the New Yorker, or a book. I have plenty of dreams about journalism, which is maybe the same thing. But more than anything, I want my words to catch fire. I want people to notice them and notice intensely; I want them to spread.
But regardless of what happens, I know I’ve been given a remarkable gift. Sometimes it feels like writing is the only thing that has never left me. Friendship, for instance, can be remarkably sustaining and encouraging, and developing real relationships is probably my favorite part of life. But there are times when those relationships feel off, when my friends grow tired of me, when no matter how hard anyone tries, it’s just not there anymore. And when all the other worldly, tangible things I count on are failing…there’s writing. It’s not always a comfort, but it’s always there.
It’s not a pleasure in the traditional sense. Writing is not smooth and mindless; it doesn’t free me from my worries or clear my mind. Often, getting the words from my mind onto the page is wrenching and frustrating and a bit painful. It’s more of an assurance. Being a writer is knowing that whatever comes my way, whatever happens in my life, I will always have a pen and paper.
Unlike most everything else, my love affair with words will last a lifetime.