What calls out the writer in us?
What is the purpose of writing? Moreover, what is the purpose of the writer when they are not writing? I've been asking myself these questions for six years now, and I've never been satisfied with my answers.
My last serious burst of writing ended in 1994. I was published, and something about it terrified me. The first time I saw my name in print, it both thrilled me and filled me with a deep, visceral terror. What I had written was personal, painful, honest. Was it the best thing I'd ever written? I don't think so, but it was what the publishers saw fit to print. I was new to the experience, and it shook me so greatly that I turned away from it. But as the years passed, I found myself looking back, not just wanting to return but needing to return. Writing, done correctly, is the most brutally honest and soul-stripping activity I have ever encountered. It is druglike in its capability to call you back to it, again and again. There is the visceral thrill in picking away at the layers of a personality, pulling away at the protective layers we swathe ourselves in, to find the glistening, living soul beneath.
We are fascinated by souls, we creatures of human communities; we are so accustomed to catching brief glimpses of people's true natures in moments of weakness or lapsed guard that we are unable to turn away when someone presents their soul in its ashamedly naked totality. We stare, transfixed, as if we have never been allowed to see inside another person before.
Why do we write, if not to expose ourselves to the harshness of others' eyes? Why do we go through the painful, careful process of whittling down our words into the sculptures of phrase and the colors of thought that reflect our souls—if they are not to be seen by others? Are we the exhibitionists of the world?
Why are we so addicted to this? What causes us to go back to this socially-accepted form of mutilation again and again?
Andy says I am far more introspective than he is, which I'm inclined to take as a compliment. He has a point; I sometimes lie awake at night replaying the events of the day in my head in the form of a chess game. I am almost obsessed with systems of all sizes, great and small, and the part that I play in the ones that I am in. In my mind I can see people as players, workspace and home as boards, and myself reviewing my moves and seeing how they affected and influenced those around me. An intricate set of rules, this game, in knowing who interacts with whom and which pieces will not interact without an unlikely and large interference on someone's part.
There is a difference between playing 'what if,' wondering how you could have changed things, and attempting to perceive a pattern and flow to the events you have taken part in.
The seeking of pattern and flow is one of the most intriguing parts of writing. To create an interesting piece—or person, or setting, or place, or interaction—is one thing. But to put it in a context, give it events and happenstance and chance encounters and interaction—is to create a cosmos of your own.
It is the only activity I've ever encountered that lets you have the magnanimous creativity of a divine being, while forcing you to become personally, intimately involved with your creations. You cannot step away from what you've created—they are part of you, indeed are you.
They are in your head, they share your life, and through your mind they become part of your life. It is a daunting prospect. It is more than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It is to let your mind be taken over by the personalities you create. If your creations are not at first real to you, how can you make them real to others?
These thoughts have come to me often since Jeff gave me a laptop for me to do some writing on. My intent was to write fiction, but for now I see that non-fiction has a deep hold on me. I would stare at the screen and try to force myself to write, saying, "I said I would. I said I would. Now I must."
Keeping a journal and posting it online has been a daunting experience for me. Suddenly, my friends and co-workers have a very real and tangible way of finding out what I'm thinking about. I call it an autistic form of exhibitionism; publicly showing my thoughts and impressions, but only when someone chooses to look at them.
I'd like to say what I'm doing is an excavation into my own soul. I understand it probably less than anyone who has ever met me. For as long as I can remember, I've been on an often-sidetracked quest for meaning. Who is this I? Why does she feel compelled to write? Why does she feel compelled to bare her soul to a world that would go on without her display?
Deep inside, I wonder what it is about me that makes me crave the anguish and exacting introspection that comes with writing. I suspect I'll never know.