“Why do you write?”
When I walked into the busy café, the only seat available was the one across from the man now asking the question. A scruffy septuagenarian with colorful but suspect stories about giving up millions, living with Navajos, and unwittingly making an award-winning documentary, he had also been an English teacher.
His question was an obvious one. Curiously though, it wasn’t one I recalled ever having been asked. I had to pose it to myself before I could give him an answer.
Why do I write?
I was reminded of the night before. Having worked hard all day to finish a project, it had finally come together. Once it had, I felt a rush as powerful as any that caffeine might induce. Visceral. Adrenaline surging through my body, inspiration lifting my spirit. It was exhilarating. So real, so unexpected, I had to question whether I’d forgotten about coffee or chocolate I might have consumed earlier. But I hadn’t.
Writing was the rush.
As I thought more about it, I realized I’d been writing for as long as I could remember. The books I wrote in elementary school secured me spots at two Young Authors conferences. I still had my journal from a third-grade trip to the Southwest.
For many years, though, keeping journals was the only writing I did. It wasn’t until I unearthed several during a move that I discovered the wisdom they offered about how to live my truth. There it was in plain sight again and again as I revisited pages written in my 20s and early 30s, a historian delving into my own past. Every few months I’d longed to “take some time off and just write”. But I hadn’t. And I wasn’t getting any younger.
I couldn’t escape the feeling there was more to life. But how to figure out what that might be?
I wanted to write because I suspected that, for me at least, writing was the way.
I also wanted to write out of a simple desire to express myself, pen-and-paper always having been a comfortable medium. I felt I might have something worthwhile to say. I hoped some of my ideas, experiences, and perspectives might inspire, provoke, or even make a difference.
I wanted to write because I love language. Because learning others gave me a deeper appreciation for my own. Because in a time when so much of our communication is reduced to unreflective fragments, letter writing is a lost art, and entire languages are going extinct, I'm still intrigued by the written word.
I kept writing because I discovered how much I loved it. Not knowing where I’m going to end up when a story takes over and writes itself, rendering me little more than a conduit, a channel for some unseen muse. Being confronted by a daunting challenge and persevering until it’s overcome. Those exquisite experiences when, like astronomers sending signals out into space in the long-shot hope their calls will be answered, I make contact and am transported to other worlds.
I don’t want to die without having done something more meaningful with my life than taking a pleasant but predictable stroll down a safe and secure path.
As long as I’m writing, there’s no danger of that.