take your seats the lights are low plenty of space behind the curtain it is a curation desert an empty gallery
that’s art? you ask you like to push time so what did you do Saturday Squanderer he said, practice this chord until your fingers bleed
like learning to whistle she said, you might pass out through your fingers more air, less tongue mean it make it echo to call the dogs off the mountain to hope they don’t come home skunked again or worse, quill-nosed or not at all
find a rock so you can brag about your ability to manifest crystals imposter on a trail what was it all for
you won’t go through that velvet opening your hands are too tired for the heaviness of that drapery or for what the audience might not see
“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Why am I a writer?
If I could spend most of my days writing, in chosen isolation, I probably would. But why? (And why can’t I? That is a different topic for another time).
Today I am going to explore a few of the many of the reasons why I write.
I write to begin.
To prepare the garden bed, I must weed. I must pull and dig, clear away death and debris, find who made a home among the thistles, and encourage them to leave. I must turn over the earth and find the deep-rooted and stubborn weeds, as even in their home’s destruction, they will still find a way to hoard the nutrients.
In this preparation, I find the tree frog and the praying mantis. I find what grasses will cut my fingers in my unwillingness to wear garden gloves. I am surprised by the snake and the orb-weaver and the wonderment of their gorgeous markings. I am forced to look at what went untended, in order to clear for the new.
Writing is like this. Even when not putting pen to page or fingers to keys, writing is like this.
I write to witness, document, and honor being alive.
Writing is a magical, sensory experience. Through writing I organize and remember, manifest, and connect. I can hear harmony in the humming of the street lights. I am aware of the shift in the seasons, a winter hint in summer or an autumn glimpse in spring. I see more in people’s eyes. I can tell when someone hasn’t had the turn to speak, or when a voice has not been heard. I have become an empath, for better or worse. I have turned around a corner to smell the ghost of my grandfather, gone some 30 years.
I write to access my emotions.
I fear my own rage and my deepest trauma of sorrow. To surface these parts of me, at times I fear, would rattle the house and crack the earth wide open. My expression of my emotions do not actually have that much power, but they are pushed away regardless. But in writing, I can feel them safely. A character, a poetic phrase, a memory twisted into metaphor can bring tears and trembling. I can access the childhood sadness and the immense joy of simply being alive. To write is to live. To live is write. Writing is the breath and heartbeat of my wildest and most basic needs.
I write to read.
I often remind my students to read like a writer and write like a reader. This doesn’t always make sense to them. I think about the human experience: real, known, unconscious, and nebulous. When I am writing and thus reading, I look for the many ways people experience life. In the communication of our shared journey, we are not alone.
I write to read how you, the writer, might have lived through loss, shame, victory, darkness, evil, and redemption. I read to write about how I have lived through decisions, parenthood, eating disorders, anxiety, deep love, consistency, mental illness, loss, debt, sorrow, confusion, and awakening. I write and read to honor writers and all of the common and strange ways we are human.
Author’s note: This is the beginning of my thoughts on this. Yesterday, the world lost another beautiful person to cancer. I will miss my friend Grace, who was a shining light to so many people. She had the most courage and strength of anyone I have ever known. And as a former teacher of both her children, I will stand protector of them, even if from afar, forever.
You go to the kitchen anxious. This is no way to greet your husband and the coffee he just made. But there it is. It’s almost sunrise. You cannot place your worry, and so it lingers in a physical need. You wrap your arms around his body sideways. He turns to you and wraps you into his chest. Fridge door light on you both, his hand releases the half and half.
He knows you. He knows your answer will be that you don’t know what’s wrong. Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. He’s on to you. He knows that you have been awake for a while. He knows that unconsciously you made a decision you might regret. Or not. It doesn’t need to be decided now. He isn’t psychic. You have patterns. He caught you still dreaming.
You both do the counting on your fingers and the deep breath you exhale. This exercise comes from the book you brought home to read with your son. You are worried that your son worries too much so this is a book about kids with anxiety. You know you brought this book home for yourself, too. You try the gratitude.
I’m grateful for you and for peanut butter and jelly.
He was in the middle of packing your child’s lunchbox. You sound silly to yourself, always the harshest judge. So you add intellectual silliness.
It’s just an amazing combination of flavors.
Your worries were there a minute ago. What was wrong? Hadn’t you been spinning since 4:30 or so? Is that the time the SSRI begins waning? Maybe you should up the meds. Maybe you should blame Mars for being so intense in your chart. Maybe blame the constant government chatter, the nothing that is being done, the injustice, your social media show and tell, is it enough? is it too much? The bills to pay late.
Yes, your gun tucked into your back waist band is hot, and I do not mean stolen — but you know what I mean. I see your ring, but you could be a model for J. Crew when I was into those catalogs. Your November outfit takes me camping, holds me with your eyes that have seen what I saw today. You live here right? The place where air is stale and the ceilings, although high, are uncomfortably low. Oppressing even a short girl like me.
The rooms, after an upgrade, a decision — they have stopped suicide attempts: less perforated surfaces in which to weave a thread through, less bars to noose sheets. The success rate of suicide since this detainment center’s grand opening (It is for detainment), is eight. Completion of suicide is considered a success. That is a low number, but I saw that thick file. I know an ex-boyfriend’s brother used a door knob. Sat down on his knees and leaned way into the choke. That is a whole other story. Still ghosts — when confronted with reality.
I looked back at the man in his cell. Catching his eye and looking away. He was grinding his body up against the BOLTED AND HEAVY door, while I watch the commercial on the TVs, he also sees. A preview for the final episode of American Horror Story. Don’t miss it. Or watch it later. Look away.
An inspection. The pain. The complete delusion. A mother’s son. I saw the library. The GED program. This was not me. This won’t be you.
But it could be. Flip the page. Like when I sat in my piano teacher’s waiting area. Waiting for this kid, who actually practiced, to be done. He got extra time. I was FASCINATED by the book she had on the coffee table. The kind with pictures, optical illusions of faces. Turn it one way, it is an old lady smiling in a feathered hat. Flip the page, it’s a pirate scowling, the feather turned beard and foul teeth.
In that way, I am looking out of my cell. It’s sticky and they will move me soon. I took the class on empathy and how to tell what anger feels like in my body. I connected with the characters in a book I found in the library, but can a girl get some romance reading in here? A microcosm. Dental. Vision. Pharmacy. I got what I need.