27 August 2008

Living the Questions

A former student was given an assignment by her English 101 professor to ask a teacher the following questions:

1) How do you feel about writing?
2) Why is writing important to you?

Following is my response:


Ok, I'm back. Here goes. It gets a little weird, so stay with me. The simple truth is that most people think I am a lunatic when I tell them how I feel about writing. I recognize that normal people aren't wired this way, but I feel about writing the way most people feel about, say, air. Or skydiving. Or the mountains, or hot fudge sundaes, or God. No, not God exactly, but religion maybe. I knew when I was five years old and used to play with my sister's little blue plastic manual typewriter that I was going to be a writer. It's not that it was the only thing I could do (though there were pitiful times in eighth grade gym class when it felt like that) but I always knew that it was kinda my secret superpower. The world could be the most messed up place, my parents could be fighting, the boy I liked could tell me to drop dead, I could have no friends, my cat could barf all over my homework, and when I opened a notebook and wrote about it, everything got ok again. For Christmas in eighth grade, my parents got me a copy of "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg, and it changed my life. Suddenly, I was allowed to write, and allowed to write about anything. My parents, and the book, had given me permission. Writing was comfort at the end of a hard day, a way to keep me sane in school and in my own head as a teenager, and it was freedom. I could be anyone. I could be me (whoever that was). I could try on all sorts of things, and not get in trouble. I could work out all the stupid things that people said and did, and fix them. I could tell a story the way I wanted it to end. I could get the guy, run away from home, climb mountains, hop freight trains, go to college, solve mysteries--all while sprawled across my bed with a black-and-white marbled notebook. (The green ink thing also started in eighth grade, as a way to piss off my English teacher, who already disliked me because I was smarter than she was....but that's another story.)

Writing for me now is a ritual of peace and centering; a way to touch base with myself, my emotions, whatever divinity exists, the world. It's a way to keep track of where I'm going, not to mention where I've been. It's a sort of road map. Still, if the world or my marriage or my health threatens to fall apart, I can open a black-and-white notebook and uncap my green fountain pen, and everything will seem all right. If I didn't have that--and there have been times I have been unable to write, either physically or emotionally literally unable to write, for whatever reason--I would be a most unhappy sight. It's not pretty. If I don't write, I get cranky. My husband once threatened to lock me in my writing room until I had written enough pages that I got out of my funk! (the threat itself made me laugh so hard it did the trick, but I went and wrote for an hour anyway). If I don't write, I can't figure anything out. Why I think something, why I feel a certain way, or sometimes even what I am feeling or thinking in the first place. I am not the world's best debater with the spoken word--my thoughts get tangled up unless I have a pen in my hand. I express myself so much more clearly in writing than I do out loud, in part because I used to be self-conscious about the sound of my voice, in part because you apparently use entirely different parts of your brain to write than you do to speak. Who knew? Sometimes I have to go back to one of my old journals to prove a point in an argument. If I've written about it, I'm usually right (and sometimes I'm word-for-word right, which pissed my husband off no end). If I didn't write about it, I may forget entirely. I probably will, in fact. My brain can be a notorious sieve. Without writing, nothing makes sense. Certainly not this weird life we're in.

This is probably way more than you bargained for, and not even close to what your professor is expecting. But he should have known better--he's a writing teacher, after all.

Be well.


No comments: