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.

I remembered a line from a Tom Petty song: “You don’t know how it feels…to be me.” This is something drummed into me over years in medicine: never tell a patient you know how they feel.

You cannot.

You can empathize. You can sympathize. But you cannot know until the patient tells you. Even then, the full weight of the emotion – be it anxiety, fear, happiness, anger – isn’t ever really known by another.

So, why do we need to write?

The big story in the last two weeks has been the “Weinstein scandal,” or, as it should be known, “A long-time sexual predator is finally arrested.”

Oh wait he hasn’t been arrested yet.

In any case, Lupita Nyong’o penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times about her experiences with him. She said she was sharing her story now in hopes that the growing chorus would squelch people like Weinstein in the future.

When I first heard about the Op-Ed, I wanted to read it. I wanted to know what she thought, what she felt, and how she processed these events. I wanted to hear her voice.

I read it, and I recognized some of the emotions she described, the creepy interactions that left her off-kilter, wondering what happened and where she stood with this powerful producer. I thought, recalling many incidents I’ve experienced with older powerful men, I know how you feel.

Weinstein responded predictably. He said he “recalled events differently.” This was sent out in a press release, and distributed in several news outlets. In the past, this was enough. His voice against hers. His voice OVER hers.

This was his classic MO. The newspaper article plants and lawyers and alienation were sophisticated and cruel ways to take away these women’s voices. This allowed him and his team to twist his behavior into something acceptable, and then define these women to suit their needs. Of course he silenced them with money, with threats, and with nondisclosure agreements. He also silenced them with his version of events and his version of THEM, with the sheer force and presence of his voice.

They were locked away, in little corners, whispering to each other and vaguely relaying experiences. After a confession, or two, they would push it back inside and scatter away from each other, proceeding through life.

This time, though, it didn’t work as well. Ms. Nyong’o recused herself from any further comment. She knows it is HER story to tell. It isn’t his. It isn’t mine. It isn’t yours. It belongs to her and her alone. She doesn’t need to justify it to anyone. She just needs to tell it.

By writing it down she recaptured her humanity. She became a person again in that story, someone with a perspective and a version of events as powerful and as important as his.

This is what writing does, and why we need to write. It is a form of respect for your own voice. No one else can tell the story you need to tell.

It shows us our differences. It brings us together. It makes us human.

photo of a burned out home in Santa Rosa California
They can’t imagine unless you tell them.

1 thought on “Why We Write”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *