Why We Write

I was going to write about self-care this week, and what a racket it is. But then the fires came and destroyed my hometown, and Harvey Weinstein was finally removed from his literal and figurative position on top of all of the women of Hollywood. I started to think about why we need to write.

Last time I wrote about giving ourselves permission to write. Now I find myself thinking about why we need to write in the first place, and why we have to remind ourselves of this every day.

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Conjuring Shakespeare’s Sister

Last month Jessica wrote about her struggle to read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. She never did make it through the whole text—and unless you are the worst kind of nerdy English major, it is a tedious read. Nevertheless, she found that in her middle age she had gained an appreciation for Woolf’s central point:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.

Because I am that worst sort of English major—one who attended a small liberal arts college in the countryside and lazed away the hours in the local cafe reading, drinking black coffee, and smoking cheap cigarettes—Jessica’s post inspired me to try and reread Woolf’s treatise. I wanted to see if my 43 year old writing self would respond to her arguments differently than did my 20 year old self.

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Write About It, If You Dare

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde

Write about it.

Want to be liked? Get ready to relegate yourself to last place. Get ready to spend your hours studying what pleases people and then more minutes, hours, days to dedicate your life to doing that, the thing everyone likes. Last-place-people work hard. The pathological need for external approval is silencing us.

Write about that pathology.

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Being Real—In Life and in Writing

When I was in elementary school, my mom and I lived with my grandparents for a few years. Each morning, I would wake in my daybed and tiptoe, pajama-clad, out to the second-story landing overlooking the living room, dining room, and the breakfast bar of my grandparents’ large kitchen. Down below, there they were: sitting in the dark on stools at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee from matching white porcelain coffee cups and talking in low murmurs. Eventually, the sun would rise and light would fill the whole first story of the house. My mom and I would join them for breakfast. The TV eventually would be turned on to catch a glimpse of the morning news, traffic, and weather reports.

But for my grandparents, the morning started with stillness, darkness, conversation, and coffee. Since my parents divorced when I was a toddler, my grandparents were my model of an adult relationship. I wanted that: a partner to start the morning with, over coffee, in the dark, until sunlight flooded the house.

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On Quitting: A Writer’s Dilemma

For several years I have been working on versions of an essay titled “Why I Quit School,” and now it has become my memoir project. From the moment I stepped into my kindergarten classroom to the moment I walked out of my university office for the last time, I’ve had a tortured relationship with formal education. Instinctually, I knew its obsession with compliance, uniformity, and competition was antithetical to real learning and growth, but I couldn’t keep myself from participating, from trying to show my classmates and teachers I could could excel within the system while giving it the finger at the same time. At times I succeeded, but ultimately the battle I was waging exhausted me and I had to walk away.

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Where We Write: Claiming, Then Reclaiming My Space

I tried to read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” years ago while on a spiritual retreat in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. In my early 20s, I believed it was required reading for a good feminist. Sliding that thin book off the shelf among all the other options, I felt like an actual grown-up woman, anticipating the wisdom I was about to receive.

Here’s the thing, though: I could not get into it. And I tried. But it was: (a) boring, and (b) irrelevant to my life. A year post-college, I had recently moved to Chicago and was crashing in a rundown house with a group of my new co-workers. I was years away from beginning to write, and nothing about my sketchy living arrangement indicated the potential for a closet of my own, much less a whole room.

I have yet to gain an appreciation for Woolf’s style, but as I have aged I’ve certainly come to understand the wisdom behind having a room of one’s own.

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