Writing things down is one of the great loves of my life. And not just lengthy treatises on politics, society or motherhood, even just lists. I love lists. I love words. I take delight in taste of repeating a new word on my tongue and the way even the oldest, most familiar words look on paper.
Writing is my meditation practice. Writing things down centers me, affirms the duality of the essential and inconsequential matter of my existence in the expansive universe, and quiets my mind. Always. So I practice, knowing this is something that I will never live long enough to perfect.
I began to write I think mostly because I’m terrible at conversation. Genuinely. Dreadful. This is perhaps my biggest failing. I rarely if ever intend to be rude, but as my patience likewise has not been perfected (but, boy is the Universe working on me!), in good conversations, especially about big ideas, my mind often races to conclusions and hopscotches over the end of other people’s sentences reaching conclusions and drawing inferences before they have been outrightly stated. I find and stack counter arguments even when I don’t disagree. If you ever want to know weaknesses in your argument, I am your girl.
A conversation with me often doubles back on its own lines of thought. I research and read articles online how to be better at this. I try to take a measured approach and force myself to count pauses after the other person has concluded their sentence, but often this means I listen less well as I become so intently focused on ensuring that they know I am listening, that I don’t listen as richly. I love ideas, which in my mind take the form of words, I often say more than people, so when I latch on to one, conversation with me can be frustrating and overwhelming. I apologize in retrospect and advance to anyone who’s had to engage with me or will engage with me out loud on a point, especially one I find fascinating.
I also understand things better in writing. In school, I wrote down my notes verbatim for later digestion in order to fully appreciate the breadth or depth of a lecture. Still, I do try to listen. Listening is one of the greatest wells of writing inspiration for me. So I listen and then, later, writing and written exchange saves me from my own auditory impatience. I sometimes later go back to people I’ve talked with and acknowledge my better understanding of what they were saying for having written it out. For this reason, I’ve always preferred written exchange. Text messaging and instant messaging have made me feel like a better conversation partner even though my texts often arrive in short, syncopated bursts, which I recognize can also be overwhelming. I text in a way similar to my thought patterns and conversation style, but at least the other person gets visual confirmation that they are being heard and an awareness that they have expressed themselves in full in the way that they see fit and not simply in the way that drives my thought train forward. I engage better in that context.
I write because, once upon a time, writing literally saved my life. After my son was born and I, for reasons I’ve just recently fully begun to understand, felt so scared, heartbroken, and sometimes hopeless and small, writing gave me an outlet for all of that. I wrote daily, documenting the small nuances of every shade of my experience, the way the baby’s head smelled, how he breathed when he slept, and my own dynamic and confused anguish, until I could mercifully comprehend it enough to move on from it. I was able to give myself grace and to survive, in no small part, because I wrote.
I write because, as the great Nikki Giovanni said,
“when I can’t express what I truly feel, I practice feeling what I can express,”
and writing has always helped me do that more clearly than long rambling dissective phone calls with even my best friends, my sisters, or my mother. It’s not that those conversations aren’t invaluable to my own comprehension of my human experience and the human experience at large. Often times those talks open up lines of thinking that come pouring out of me in the predawn as written word banging against the inside of my mind until I jot them down. Every conversation I have ever had is pretext.
I write because I know somewhere there is a confidant and assured young woman who is arriving as a freshman to college, whose advisor in the English department, her declared major, will tell her something that will crush her. He will tell her that her high school AP English teacher, whom she had until this very moment greatly admired, had actually wanted another student to attend their now shared alma mater and shrug and say, “but you’re here instead,” as if having excelled in AP English and scored very nearly perfectly on the English SAT wasn’t enough to justify her arrival. Maybe this will be the reason she never makes an appointment to see that advisor again, and switches majors, and puts aside her aspirations to write professionally for more than a decade. Maybe she will be stronger than I was when this happened to me, or maybe she will read sometime something someone else like her has written and not feel defeated.
The older I get the more the line between writing and existing blurs for me. I don’t think about it anymore. I journal all the time. I scribble verses from poems I will never finish. I write things no one will ever read. I write letters, text messages, and emails that I will never send and stories that I will never try to publish. I write letters for my precious son to find and read in the future on random scraps of paper and in empty notebooks.
I imagine my son knowing me better in death than in life when he will have the task of sorting through my papers and my laptop. Maybe he will read the things I’ve written out loud, like my sister and aunts and I did my grandmother’s in tears crowded on her bed after she passed, and maybe he won’t. I live at peace with either future and a million other futures that may exist or never exist as a result of all the choices we make. I also know and am at peace with the fact that my legacy may not ever be the things I write, but the things I have made others feel, which for better or worse, for me, are only possible because I write.