Writing Matters

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. 

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. 

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. 

Sometimes, I feel that if I say it loudly and clearly enough, it will actually come to pass. 

Several years ago, I attended an all-day publication workshop organized by Stanford. After breakfast and registration, we were shepherded into an auditorium. Joyce Maynard addressed the crowd of people hoping to make it in the writing business. I am going to paraphrase because I don't remember exactly what she said, but her message has stayed with me all these years. I often remind myself of what she said that morning. "Many of you say that you want to be a writer, or you are an aspiring writer, or a struggling writer. I would argue that if you are here in this room on a sunny day in California, you are a writer, so don't be afraid to call yourself that."

Recently, I attended another information session at Stanford - not writing related - in which the question posed to the crowd was "What matters most to you, and why?" Family, I thought. Jahan. Research. Poetry. Cooking good food. Little matters that matter.

"please know
old towns we loved in matter, lovers matter, playmates, toys,
and we take from our lives those days when everything moved,
tree, cloud, water, sun, blue between two clouds, and moon,
days that danced, vibrating days, chance poem." 

-Richard Hugo in Letter to Kathy from Wisdom

In an academic, professional, creative, or goal-oriented setting, what is the one thing I can say with absolute sincerity that matters to me? It is my writing; both the lack of it, because I sense its absence like the phantom feeling left by a piece of jewelry one wore for years before deciding to remove it; and the presence of it when it arrives, in broken phrases at first, and long, winding sentences, later, like a spigot in village fields hiccuping water out in bursts before a steady stream rushes forth. I feel gratitude and relief and happiness surging through me when I am finally able to write. "It's not my best writing," I say. "But it has given me peace."  

Kind friends ask me "Have you started to write again?" Of course they mean the more disciplined kind of writing. The "staying awake after everyone is asleep so you can develop a character" kind of writing. The "write a story a week" kind of writing. Or the "write a thousand words a day" kind of writing. And I, very simply, say "No." Yes, this is the thing that matters most to me, but in this particular time in my life, there are other things that matter, too. And so, I look at the situation differently. Rather than thinking I have pushed my writing into a corner to accommodate other things, I choose to focus on the fact that I prioritize my writing as I am able to, despite all other demands on my time. Sometimes, I am not able to meet my goals of a poem every two weeks, two blog posts a week at a minimum, or timed writing exercises. But I try not to beat myself up over it. Writing matters to me because it gives me a sense of letting go, a feeling of serenity. I plan to keep it that way.

So, for now, I write to find order in an otherwise chaotic life. I write to ground myself. I write about the things that matter. The rest? Well, it can wait. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue