Why Write? It’s Sure Not to Eat

Recently I’ve been MIA. I dropped off facebook and twitter except to plug a story, interview, or author I’ve recently read and liked a great deal. Some time ago, a friend made an observation: “you’ve been hiding”. Another friend asked me what I was up to because she hadn’t seen me on-line in awhile. I told her I’ve been busy with work, which was only partially true and she knew it.

While it is “crunch time” at work, I’ve also been wrapping up and revising a number of projects. The first draft of my novel is complete. I have two new short stories finally finished. And I have a couple of poems in the hopper. Through a few emails she finally asked the question that I’m sure was bugging her: “Why do you spend so much time on that?”

I laughed and asked her if she had been talking to my wife. But, she didn’t let it go; she was earnest in her question. So I had my usual conundrum: what do I tell people when they ask me why I write?

Usually, I tell them “I don’t know”.

I’m a big, fat liar.

I lie with a straight face. I don’t feel bad about it. I lie so well that if I played poker, I’d be rich enough to not need a fellowship or win a contest or be the next Steven King to help me support my writing addiction.

I could spit out “I have to write”, but that has no meaning to people who are not writers. They don’t understand the obsession or how not writing can affect a person. If I come home from work and am a jerk, the first question my wife asks me is: “you didn’t get a chance to write, did you?” So, “I don’t know” is a perfectly good response.

Even I’m not entirely sure why I do it. Perhaps I write to clarify, to make sense of the world, to entertain. Whatever it is, it sure isn’t to put food on the table.

Jon Dewey observed, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Like most writers, I am writing continuously: scratching out idea at kid’s karate practices, recording plot ideas while walking between classes, intently listening to the old people in the booth behind me discuss Sam’s need for a kidney (while technically this is eavesdropping, I like to call it research).

When I go to the park with my kids and watch them master the monkey bars for the first time or block a lay-up at basketball practice, when I sit on the couch with a kitten on my lap, feeling it push its paws up and down on my stomach, when I am awake at night unable to sleep listening to the fan whir, I make sure to jot those moments down.

Many of the moments don’t ever leave the cheap composition pad I wrote them on; but, when that book is full and I am ready to put it away, I review them. I see where praising my daughter would be more appropriate than getting frustrated with that strong-willed terror, because she really is a good kid. I see where I could have listened to the subtext of a conversation, or the body language more closely and recognized that my wife really wasn’t angry about my shaven ear hair in her sink, but I had been so “busy” I hadn’t really sat down and talked with her for awhile. Best yet, I can see where I had a breakthrough in my own writing, a beautiful “ah hah” moment about a certain piece that was bugging me.

People are mean, and crazy; they are innocent and hypocritical; they are a complex bundle of chemicals and synapses, emotions and values. By writing, I attempt to get at who people are and why they do what they do in our culture. This exploration is more for myself than anyone else, though if they also find it engaging, I am even more happy.

Yes I want people to think, and to explore the complexities of our condition, but I also want them interested in the story, to feel something. Without that emotional charge, I am not making any connection with anyone else, and that is anathema to writing. I, like most writers, write to be read.

One day I hope to look at this topic more closely. I hope to really reflect on the question. Maybe then I’ll even be able to find a better answer than “I don’t know” when I’m asked “why do you write.” Until then, I’ll keep plugging along.

Speaking of writing, please keep an eye out for a poem, “Lilith Braves the Pawn Shop”, recently accepted over at Apparatus Magazine, and a short story, “Camp Deliverance”, accepted over at Title Goes Here.

I’d thought I’d end with this post with a poem. Yes, it’s a draft, but I am enjoying the process of revising it. Again.

My Wife

chews her children’s worlds, listens to the cud of daily life.

The baby yawns between bites;

Her older sister entertains our gaze with tales

of swings, flowers, a boy named Chase.

Afterwards we make fireworks

and kaleidoscopes from toilet paper tubes,

put on music and drum and sing; we dance

in circles. When dusk settles,

we fan ourselves with quiet.

My oldest daughter loves sleep,

the imagination’s Tiger Lilly. The baby

shares thrash and eye spin. She tastes

the world differently: a glutton

for the explosion of textures

and aromas, the sweet gnashing

and slow burn. My wife drinks

coffee, tosses and turns

in bed. She wishes she were warmer, curls

into my skin as naturally as a body unfolding

after a large meal. The streetlight

illuminates her face and I am amazed:

a woman such as this

fits her body into mine whispering

stories that burst

like blood on taste buds;

a woman such as this holds my hand,

and walks with me into dream.

 

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