I Write to Express Myself

I am sixteen years old standing in my kitchen arguing with my parents over something silly like a house party I wasn’t allowed to attend or how I think life is unfair. My disappointment turns to anger and my anger to sadness and before I know it I am sent up to my bedroom to cool down. Still shaken by the negative experience and agony I caused not only to myself, but also to my parents, I sit on my bed crying. I feel so many different emotions at once, but most of all I am mad—mad at myself for making such a big deal out of nothing. I pull out my journal, open up to a fresh page and begin writing. Only now do I know everything is going to be okay. Or at least it appears that way, as I spill my heart out in words.

At moments like this, writing is all that matters. The rest of the world is shut off and my thoughts travel from mind to pencil to paper. Sometimes I write in paragraph form and my ideas flow in chronological order, other times I scribble down every idea hoping to free them from my cluttered mind and still other times I write organized lists—and it all goes back to what I’m thinking. I write to express myself.

Writing to Understand

 

Reading the two essays titled, “Why I Write,” by George Orwell and Joan Didion, served as the catalyst for the self-realization I had about why I write.  They rightfully consider writing to be a selfish process, although I interpret this bold statement differently than Orwell and Didion.  Writing is inherently selfish because the author incorporates so much of their own personalities into their work.  Whether this inevitable integration of self is intentional or subconscious depends on the writer and how extroverted they are.    The concept of “selfish” writing helped me realize my own motives for choosing to be a writing minor.  Regardless of the subject, I constantly find myself writing things over and over again to understand them.  I would consider my learning style to be writing since I learn best while talking notes and writing information into my own words.

Similarly, writing allows me to learn about myself.  When I put my most complex emotions into words, I am able to express feelings I could never say out loud.  Perhaps I can fully express myself in writing because I find it very difficult to lie or describe things I don’t truly believe.  There’s something about seeing the words in front of me that make them more real than they’d be if I simply said them out loud.  Furthermore, I love reading the emotional writing of others, and I always attempt to achieve a level of pathos in my academic essays.   When writers appeal to the emotions of their audience, their pieces are more powerful and effective.

In my essay, I want to explore the deep introspective implications writing has on my own understanding of myself, while simultaneously creating an emotional reaction in my audience.  I hope to emulate Nicholas Kristof’s descriptive and blunt writing style.  I love his honesty and ability to make me picture the people and places he writes about.

Imagine if I wrote my entire essay like this

Why I Write (Sylvia Plath Remix)

I write because I

Breathe, because I need

to feel like I’m making a little word with my own

hands—

 

I write because I read

Pages make such impressions on me;

Its only natural I should wish to leave

Fingerprints on one of them in return.

 

I write because these images only stay

Running through the mazes of my mind so long

before finding their way out. I must scrawl

them on my wrist before they’re gone.

 

I write because my lifelines hold

Secrets no palmistry experts could trace out,

But my pencil bleeds leaden secrets,

Across scraps of paper, plain as day, grey as clay.

And needs not occult to do it.

 

This was my pitiful attempt to write like Sylvia Plath, using dashes, creepy imagery, enjambment, and honesty to convey a point. I hope it is not an entire disaster.

Grammar Lessons and So Much More

It’s funny that this was assigned. Over the weekend, I was asked what book changed my life.  I felt particularly apprehensive about the question, and a little embarrassed as an English major. You see, no actual book has ever really changed my life. That’s not to say that pieces of writing haven’t though; Michele Morano’s “The Subjunctive Mood” from her collection of essays Grammar Lessons totally changed my life and is the piece I’ve chosen to bring in for class tomorrow.  The essay itself deals with a number of things I really know nothing about: love, suicide, the spanish language, etc. But, through her writing, I feel like I can understand everything she’s saying; I empathize with her in spite of the definition of empathy.

When the reading was first assigned to me in a class that was more or less about creative writing, I was puzzled. Why would my professor be assigning a grammar lesson? Yes, the subjunctive mood is useful to know about in some situations, but it seemed a little out of place for the class. As I started reading, I found myself perplexed. But the purpose of assigning the reading quickly became clear, and Morano’s genius blindsided me in a way I’ll never forget.

She starts out simply enough, describing the subjunctive mood, how it’s used to express things that may happen or are speculative. In contrast, she explains the indicative mood as well, which expresses things factually (“I would have paid my rent on time” versus “I paid my rent on time”, for example). Morano uses the following examples to exemplify the indicative:

I was in love.”
“The man I loved tried to kill himself.”
“I moved to Spain because the man I loved, the man who tried to kill himself, was driving me insane.”

Kind of dark, huh? She does the same for the subjunctive:

“I thought he’d improve without me.”
I left so that he’d begin to take care of himself.”

It’s clear at this point that the grammar lesson is something much more. The way she’s framed her troubles with a depressed lover who has tried to kill himself in the context of grammar is not only incredibly clever to me, but speaks to the power of language, grammar, and syntax. It’s so simple and, yet to me, so genius. Every single bit of the essay is prefaced by a subtitle that sets up the general topic for the section. For example,  the boyfriend Morano has moved to Spain to escape from visits her. When he leaves at the end she subtitles the section, “After Certain Indications of Time, If the Action Has Not Occurred.” The entire following section deals with the boyfriend’s departure, if they’ll see each other again, if they think that through the troubles and distance of their relationship, that they can make this work.  The passage is marked with a great uncertainty, which is perfect for the usage of the subjunctive mood, and the whole piece really makes me reflect on why language and communication is so important, and how powerfully it expresses.

And on a purely aesthetic note, her writing is absolutely gorgeous. A particular passage stands out in my mind. In this passage, Morano reflects on spending New Year’s Eve with her boyfriend in Spain:

“Three days before, you’d stood in Granada’s crowed city square at midnight, each eating a grape for ever stroke of the New Year. If you eat all twelve grapes in time, tradition says, you’ll have plenty of luck in the coming year. It sounds wonderful – such an easy way to secure good fortune – until you start eating and time gets ahead, so far ahead that no matter how fast you chew and swallow, midnight sounds with three grapes left.”

She characterizes her doubt and cynicism so lucidly that you almost feel her frustration with her situation with her. If I could be in love with a piece of writing, I think this would be it. This piece made me want to write. It made me stop caring about trying to find what avenue of life would bring me the most wealth, fortune, and glory. It made me think, “Why couldn’t I have written that?” In reading this, I found a goal for myself – to write as honestly and beautifully as she.

 

Why Do They Write? Why Do I Write?

George Orwell

George Orwell’s in-depth recollection of his childhood was interesting to me. It made me wonder if my childhood is to praise for the writer I am today. I suppose it’s true to some extent; I’ve always had a desire to express myself whether it be in a locked away diary, private blog post, or article for the world to see. Here’s how Orwell’s motives for writing apply to me…

  • Sheer egoism: Yes, I do enjoy seeing my name in print. It makes me feel accomplished. But then again, who doesn’t like to feel this way–writer or not?
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm: I love it when I produce a perfectly crafted sentence. Reading my wisely written prose is almost as fun as seeing a brand new fall runway show, and trust me, fashion is another form of beauty in the external world.
  • Historical impulse: Straight-forward and to the point.
  • Political purpose: Politics are not my cup of tea. I write what I like; I don’t try pushing any secret agenda on readers. Orwell did say the first three motives outweigh this one. But then he goes on to say how everything he writes that lacks a political purpose is lifeless. When it comes to my own writing, I disagree.

Joan Didion

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking…What I want and what I fear.”  So do I. I live for the moment when I can open up a blank word document and type everything and anything that comes to my mind. Some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t.  A bundle of ideas and reflections that feel much better on paper than in my head. Didion knows what she’s talking about. The idea of turning pictures into prose is something that I can relate to. All writers view the world differently and it’s in our power to write how and why we please.

 

Why Do I Write??

After reading the two pieces and only partially identifying with either one on their reasons for writing, the question “Why do I write?” was forefront in my mind. I was turned off by a fact mentioned in both pieces, that writing was at the very core, a  selfish act.  Immediately after reading that, I put up a wall. Of course that didn’t apply to me; I want to do science writing, bring research to a lay audience. Not long after, it dawned on me that despite noble intentions, I wanted to do this because I think of myself as a decent writer, or that I can say it better than the next guy… not so noble. As I tried to appease my science-oriented mind by pinpointing specific characteristics I think make me a decent writer, I caught myself doing something also mentioned in both articles: introspection.

I have never considered myself particularly introspective. In fact, I harbor a sort of disdain for others that I see have that Freudian aspect. Both Orwell and Didion mentioned a “diary that existed only in the mind” and “writing entirely to find out what’s in my own mind,” respectively. Again, something I found myself unable to relate to and back at the core question of why do I write? Along that same vein, Orwell’s mind diary reference did strike a chord with me.

Many times a day I will catch myself doing exactly as both Orwell and Didion described, narrating scenes with intense detail. Sometimes I do it out of sheer boredom, other times I just like the sound of the words and the narrative in my head. Still other times, I place myself in the narration as a character in the hopes that my mind narration will lead to a meet-cute and my life will transform into a romantic comedy. So far, only the comedy has come to fruition.

On a final note, I guess what I took away the most from these pieces (Orwell’s in particular) is that you need to write for a purpose. Orwell is famous for his later work, the politically oriented writing. He wrote that he switched to this kind of writing after a significant life event when he knew where he stood ideologically. This made me think again what my motivations are for writing. I have had no significant life events that would sway me in any one direction for any profession. As Didion mentioned her deep fascination with other people: who they were, how they ended up where they were that day, why they were doing what they were doing; the same questions stampede through my mind a thousand times a day. It’s like an oncologist chooses that profession because his mom died of cancer. I don’t have any deep, personal motivation for writing and I don’ t know that I necessarily need a profound experience to make myself legitimate, but I do feel as though it would be easier to justify to myself.