Robert Frost is famous for saying, “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with.”
I’d argue that, at least for me, most writing begins this way.
My 9 year old self would probably disagree. At 9 I started writing a journal. Correction, a diary. As in, “Dear Diary, today I….” …sat next to Simon at school… watched The Simpsons on TV… ate shepherd’s pie for dinner… It’s quite the page turner.
At 12 I wrote about arguments with friends and injustices at the hands of my [in hindsight, very responsible and loving] parents. There were flashes of self-consciousness and teenage insecurity.
Later, there were boys and high school dramas and youthful dreams of the future.
There was college and poetry, allnighters and bad decisions.
There was love. There was pregnancy. More anxieties over the future.
There was hurt and hope.
And then there was death.
And just like that, I understood the sentiment Frost was describing.
Suddenly my writing was the purest and most raw manifestation of my grief. I slept with a Moleskine notebook by my side. My lungs screamed silently as my pen rushed illegibly across the pages. My jaw stayed clenched, muscles in my shoulders knotted stubbornly, but the pen in my hand melted away the stress, if only for minutes at a time.
My pen was the one to realize I was not crazy. It was the one to take the promise of new life and hold onto it jealously until that too was snatched away. My pen saw strength where I did not. It knew how to pray before I even remembered I believed in God. It lashed out when I was self-loathing and guilty. It embraced gratitude and fragile hope. It clutched onto memories and gave shape to dreams. My pen wrangles words with a kind of magic I do not comprehend.
To the non-writer, I realize this may sound crazy. Maybe even to the writers out there, I sound a little odd. But we all have our obsessions. Our coping mechanisms. Our habits. Mine is words. Even when there is no paper or keyboard, I’m writing in my head.
I write to understand what I’m feeling. I write to quiet the noise in my head. I write because it’s the only way I can make sense of my world. I write because even when things don’t make any sense at all, the words are my comfort and my peace.
And yet I hate it. I crave it. I obsess over it and I neglect it. Once in a blue moon it feels organic and articulate. Most of the time it feels clumsy and blundering, much the same way it feels when I run, I suppose.
Often graceless, always necessary.
In a fit of frustration, I tell myself to listen to author Anne Lamott, who wrote an essay entitled “Shitty First Drafts.” I commit to writing 200 crappy words a day until my brains remembers what to do and maybe, just maybe, something more eloquent will emerge. That practice lasts for a week. Maybe two. And then I am distracted by life and cheerios and inboxes and the sound of lawnmowers through the open window.
It’s six months since I kicked off this website, gritted my teeth and hit the publish button. I would be lying if I said I didn’t question my decision to do so. It’s scary being this vulnerable this transparently. But amazingly enough, with every single post, I’ve had at least one person – strangers and friends – tell me to keep writing. Just keep writing.
I started to post my writing here because I believe stories are an inherent part of what makes us human. They help us realize we’re not alone; they help us make sense of our own stories. And so I offer up my own. Because I know how much other people’s stories have meant to me.
I think it is, as Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, has said: “story illuminate[s] a truth that is universal.”
I’m not bold enough to say that my story does this, but I will admit that this search for truth is the very foundation of my need to write. Strayed goes on to say, “[There is a] universal truth that we are all are responsible for our lives — that we all suffer and we all need to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness.”
We each have our own stories that encompass this truth; some are written, some spoken, some held onto tightly, and some hidden. But we all have them.
Every so often, some of my babbling turns into something I think I could share, that I hope other people may read and nod their heads over. But even if they don’t, I will still be here writing, searching for truth.