- It’s time to do some writing.
- Fuck me.
- I’m serious.
- I can tell.
- You just –
- One word down, then another –
- And another, exactly.
- You know what gets me?
- It sounds so easy. Just sit down, or stand, whatever works, and then just start writing anything. Just set words down and pay attention and the words will just come of their own accord.
- That’s not so easy.
- What – ?
- “Words will just come of their own accord.” That’s an act of faith on your part. Faith that if you begin the words will follow. The weight’s on you to begin, then it’s pretty much stay the hell out of the way. It can’t be the same experience each time you write, is it?
- Now that you mention it, no.
Let me make one thing clear on the front end of this piece: why someone writes is their business. No artist of any kind is under any obligation to explain why he or she creates. Responding with, I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business, is a just response. It is no one’s business.
As far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes a writer to put words on a page is fine with me. First off, the page can be a hard place to get to and, once there, the necessary experience of being fully present in the moment can be heavy lifting at times. Its the words, the writing that I care most about. An actor who hopes to win an Oscar is no more betraying the craft of acting than a writer who hopes to win a Pulitzer is betraying the craft of writing. Wanting or hoping for an accolade is not a betrayal of creative purity. To think it is is misguided in the best light, and rubbish in any other light.
I have no problem explaining, to some extent, why I write. For some years now my short answer has been pretty much the same: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to. I suppose I could polish that sentence into finer stuff, but I’m leaving it as it is because it was born that way.
It is the sanctuary of language itself that brings me to the page, writing or reading. As far back as I can remember, books and writing have provided sanctuaries I could depend on. Even when I was homeless they were they. I am not by nature a thief, but, when I was on the street, I had no problem at all pinching paperback books off those always-squeaky! book racks in drugstores.
Language is a living thing for me. Words are living beings; they have shape, movement, sound; they each have their own pulse; they can be moody. I short, words have personality, every damn one of them.
And then, of course, there is this: language is great company. I am never alone when I write or read. Like I said: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to.
There was almost a gentleness to knowing the balance of his life had come down to nothing but the words he wrote on a page. Nothing, more or less, save, of course, for the blessedly endless supply of books to read. Such was his love of reading that he knew, in the end, if he was aware of its arrival, a deep ache-sadness at not having read all he’d wanted to read would be present.
Not sad, so much, this truth. So many around him seemingly spinning in place or out of control (held up to the light at the right angle this could indeed be redundant) in their misery. The chase for the material, gullible minds digesting to the point of blind and foolish faith that wealth meant joy and happiness. In short, pipe dreams.
Leaning back in his chair with a cup of tea, a brief and admittedly cursory self-examination led him to conclude he was free of pipe dreams.
No more pipe dreams. Reality for me, he thought.
I recently ran across a wonderfully uplifting quote by Victorian writer George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” And that, my dear reader, is very much the template (I wonder what Ms. Evans would think about this last word) for the next phase of my life.
One of the things few understand about living with a brain injury is that one’s relationship with the injury, the brain damage, is not a fixed thing. Living with a brain injury is, in a very real way, living with an influence that is in perpetual motion. This, of course, requires perpetual management of the injury. And so, for me, fatigue is more of a factor than it was, say, when I suffered my injury early one overcast summer morning in 1984. I’d been held-up and shot in the head at point blank range. I was 30. For some years following this, once I returned to work, I was able to work, 40, 50, 60 and more hours a week. But, as I said, a brain injury’s role changes. On our about 2005 or so, my ability to work regular hours came to an end.
Do not, for a moment, think I am saddened by this; I am damned glad to be alive to do anything.
The thing is, when fatigue is a factor, like it is for me, one needs to be selective about where one invests one’s energy. For me, for now, it will be invested in writing. If I am offered a speaking engagement or asked to conduct a standalone seminar or presentation of some kind, I’d be inclined to accept (depending, of course, on the issuer of the invitation). I will also keep my “foot” in the advocacy arena. But, writing will be the focus, quite possible for the rest of my life.
At first glance, not an easy question to answer. Perhaps the closest I can come to answering the question accurately is this: writing and books have been my constant companions for as long as I have memory. I have several boxes (this is not an exaggeration) filled with journals I’ve kept over the years. As for books, well, let me just say that I recently donated something in the neighborhood of 15 boxes of books to the Salvation Army leaving me with something along the lines of 45 boxes that are waiting for me to unpack them.
Now that I think of it, the answer to Why writing? is actually simple and obvious: I can always go there. So it is with books. They always give me a place to go.
My life has taught me something about loss. The unbiased hand of death plucks people from our midst, often without warning and, equally often, without any damned good reason I can think of.
And then, of course, life too happens to each of us whether we like it or not. I was not planning on getting shot and living with a brain injury. I was not planning on experiencing homelessness when I was in my teens and I know damned well I wasn’t planning on enduring the suicide of my mother and, perhaps the most savage blow of all, I was not planning on my father dying when I was 15. Hell, when I was 15 I was dancing a principal role with the Joffrey Ballet and was expected by the ballet world to have a stellar career as a dancer. But, my father died and 16 weeks later my mother placed me in reform school and all that had been came to a crashing end, including my life with a family. But! I could always write what I was thinking and feeling and I could always find a book to read. Because of them I always had a place to go.
And I would not be denied.
When I was homeless, or lived on the streets as we called it then, I became dazzlingly skilled at stealing paperback books off the rotating wire racks in pharmacies; not an easy task when one considers that one feature factored into the design of each and every one of those wire racks was that they emit a loud squeak when turned. I could tell you I’m sorry I stole all those books but this has been an honest essay and I see no reason to change that.
Anyway, this is enough for now. I have to go somewhere (this is where you smile).
You write the words in front of you, just as they are. If truth be your guide and courage your light, it is your only choice. You write the words in front of you and hope they reach the page before the influence of media, hunger, agendas, wounds of history, stain them. Sometimes you will not know if this has happened for some time. Sometimes you will never know.
You write the words in front of you, the ones that stand before your heart and soul, the ones you know wear your realities. Set them down, straight, true, clear. There are times their at-first meaning will lift like a mist and their core meaning will appear. I am back to fearless (I think). Reality, the experience of it, the exposing of it in all its ineffable shapes, tones, rhythms, sounds, movements, mores, tricks, blemishes, heartbeats, lives and deaths, relationships, lands and cultures, are the aim of your pen.
You write the words. Write, retreat, write again. You cannot – though like me, you likely will, at least at times – worry over what others will think. Have your worry, but give it no say. Write the words, write them anyway.