“I definitely learned a lesson this time. I know that I can be broken. I am not as tough as I thought. I see it now. At this point, it’s the only thing good that came out of all of this. I know myself better now and know what I have to do.”
I’ve been getting asked a lot lately about my writing. Why do I do it? Am I afraid of rejection and failure? What is my process? Many questions, mostly about what every writer struggles with – Grappling with feelings of insignificance and the balance to it that most of us feel – Each and every one of us (writers that is) feel that we have something inside us that needs to get out or we are going to explode. Simultaneously, we all feel that we simply cannot let this out truthfully and still show our faces.
Being a writer isn’t something one aspires to be – It is something that either you are, or you aren’t. Those of us that are, we usually know it early enough in life that we spend a great deal of time wondering what we did to deserve this. It is both an incredibly cherished thing, and a terrible burden at times.
The moment I really knew that this was my calling, I remember very vividly. I was sixteen, and skipping class at my college prep school. There was a gazebo on the school campus that some of us used to sneak out to when we felt like we needed a break from the crushing pressure of the day. I had been recently dumped by my first boyfriend, I was struggling a great deal with the environment at my school. I was not what you would call “Popular”. The Columbine shootings had just happened, and the whole country was in a collective state of shock and disgust. I was a weird kid by anyone’s standards. Lots of black makeup, or glitter. At the time I was going through my obsession with vintage clothing, swing dance and well, I think that day my hair was crazy and full of butterfly clips with tons of black makeup on my face. Add to that a Catholic school uniform and you start to get the picture.
I had just been summoned to the assistant principals office and told that they were worried about me. Apparently about four people had gone to him that day and told him that they were scared of me being in their classes because I “looked like those kids that shot all those people.” I was really upset by this. The Assistant principal knew me pretty well at this point. He told me that he didn’t think I was violent, but he was worried about me. My GPA was dropping, I wasn’t making friends. He referred me to the in school councilor and told me I should use my study halls to go talk to her. He also said that he could tell I was really stressed. He wrote me an excuse to get out of my next period – which was gym class, and I went down to the Gazebo with my journal. Sophomore year was American Literature. I had just gotten done reading “A Farewell to Arms” and learning about Hemmingway. Hemmingway was kind of my “Gateway” drug (and yes, I do maintain that the written word is as much of a drug as anything else – At least for me it is) to the world of being a flawed person and still making beauty.
I still have that journal, and I read this entry every chance I get. I opened the book and wrote one short paragraph “I know that most people don’t understand me. I am not sure they ever will – but I still love them all. Without them – those I have to interact with daily, I would have nothing to write about. I know that I have a great story inside me. I don’t know if I will ever figure out what it is – but I know that I will struggle my whole life to let it out.”
That’s it. Simple to read, incredibly difficult to do. I wrote in an email to a fellow writer who is struggling with depression that “Saying a writer is a little off…or has some kind of mental illness is like saying that a woman has a vagina. It just is. Most people get to live with their burdens quietly. No one has to know if they don’t want them to – we are called to something different. We must wrestle loudly with ours, we fight with ourselves every day. We yell, and scream in those resounding moments of silence we are all prone to, and when it is all done, we pick up a pen, or sit in front of a machine, and we bleed. Pure and simple.”
That’s what writing is like for me sometimes. I have bipolar disorder. I am incredibly socially awkward. I spent most of my nights alone, or on a video game creating stories with people who are just as awkward as I am…some less, some more, but there is at least a feeling of community. More often than not, I spend much time, alone, staring at a screen and a blinking cursor. I put on music to drown out the screaming silence and I begin the fight. Every day. Two hours or three thousand words, whatever comes first. When those words come out, these words – It is like bleeding. It is catharsis. Most people don’t spend days on end locked in self reflection, going over all the nuanced and brightly glaring failures that have befallen them in their life. Writers don’t have a choice. We get to do two things – Write about them, make them different in our stories, and try like hell every day to live differently. Period.
My process is like taking sandpaper to my very soul and attempting to buff out all the dull spots. Once, I thought I did it for others – so that they could maybe read what I had to say and feel some sense of sameness. That is bullshit. I do it because I have to. I do it because it is like air – or water. It is an essential part of who I am. I don’t know how to do anything else. This is simply just who I am. It is the only place I feel safe, and completely vulnerable. If someone else reads it and finds some sense of community – if they walk away with anything – that is a bonus. I do it because when I don’t, I feel empty. Like I am missing some major part of myself.
Will I ever get paid to do this? I hope so. None of that matters though. I will do it either way. At the end of the day, It is the only way I know to quiet those demons in my head and experience the sweet release of silence…even for a brief moment. I wonder sometimes if this is how other people feel about their passions – that they cannot live without them. I wonder if the man who builds model trains, or restores classic cars would shut down and die if he couldn’t do it.
I am a very blessed woman, but I have to say that aloud to myself everyday. If I do not, I get lost in the struggle. The voices take over and I become paralyzed by the fear that all of us carry within our hearts. The fear that we are alone. The fear that we don’t matter. The fear that we will never be significant to anyone.
Writing is my way of dealing with being human. It really sucks sometimes – Especially when you have to tell the truth about people in a way that paints us for what we really are.
More often than not though, it is beautiful. It is perfect, and at the end of the day, I would never be anything else.