Tag! I’m it! So there is something called a “blog hop” going on amidst my little community of fellow Internet scribes in which each of us is tasked in turn to devote a few paragraphs to what drives us to arrange letters into words and sentences and fling them out for the world’s amusement. I was nominated by the awesome Siofra Alexander, whose online collection of her poetry, dream journals and other assorted thoughts is one of the most imaginative and unpredictable places I’ve encountered, and boasts the most unique titles you’re likely to see. Check it out for yourself, and see if you don’t agree that if Christopher Nolan had tapped her to design the dreamscapes in Inception, it would have been a much wilder ride.
On to the meat of the question, then. Why do I write? It seems tantamount to asking someone why he breathes. But everyone’s answer is going to be different, as there is no perfect mold in which we can all be squeezed. I have wondered, though, over the last couple of years as I’ve really entrenched myself in the blogging world and been exposed to the craft of so many others who seem so much better at it, and far more dedicated. I don’t really seem to fit the model – can really call myself a writer in that vein. I was ruing yesterday, as I hit publish on my Blade Runner entry, that I have only posted three entries in the last two months (and after Siofra lauded me for accomplishing the 30-day blog challenge back in April, too!) Some writers can scarcely contain the bajillions of ideas for novels, short stories, poetry and so on percolating in their minds at any given time, and their sites are accordingly bursting with fresh content published daily, while they work on their eighth novel and read a dozen new books a week. I can only wish that was me, though I’m at an utter loss as to how they fit it all in with (presumably) jobs, relationships and families to consider as well.
There is a purpose and clear path I see in others that feels muddied in myself. When I started this blog back in 2011 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, and I kind of flailed around for a few months (am I a political blogger? Am I a movie reviewer? Music critic? Comedian? Feminist? Travel expert? Dispenser of dubious advice on how to write? What are these blasted widget things anyway, and why haven’t I been Freshly Pressed yet?) Eventually I established something of a template, and a style, and contented myself with writing just whatever the hell I felt like writing about that day, without worrying overmuch about the generally accepted notion that you should confine yourself to one subject if you want to build your audience to Bloggess-esque levels. It’s the same reason why I don’t aspire to become more like the folks I noted in the paragraph above – the journey has been about realizing that it’s okay to just be who I am without struggling to ape somebody else. And that particular me cannot be pigeonholed as one distinct archetype; rather there are many facets and shades and contradictions to explore. From an external point of view, this blog may read like an attempt to make sense of the world, but from this side of the keyboard, it’s about figuring meself out, and establishing something of a record of who I was and what I believed.
It’s perhaps the height of ego and arrogance to assume that anyone else gives a tinker’s cuss, but at the same time, it’s obvious that I want you to, otherwise these 299 essays would remain locked away, for my eyes only. Self-effacement to the contrary, nobody writes to be ignored, and the endorphins that fire upon the receipt of the alert that someone has liked, commented or shared something we penned cannot be replicated by any chemical substance out there. The validation we feel when someone tells us they enjoyed something we wrote is magical, as much as it may be bad form to admit that. The reverse, when a post goes ignored, or a rejection email arrives with the dreaded “not quite right for me,” is gutting. Though it is farcical to tie one’s self-esteem to the appreciation of, or indifference to, the creative work we produce, we do it anyway, against our better judgment. We write to be loved. We write to make ourselves worthy of love. When my wife tells me something I wrote brought tears to her eyes, I feel lifted. And I feel like I earned it, and no matter what else happens, that moment can’t be taken away.
I’m not sure when I started writing. It’s amusing to note how many successful writers will relate stories of how they got terrible marks in English. Mine were always pretty good (except first year university, which was something of an eye-opener), and on creative assignments, it wasn’t rare to score 100%. I will never forget a Grade 12 assignment to do an updated version of Catcher in the Rye, essentially speculating on what Holden Caulfield would think of the modern (eg. early 90’s) world. I asked whether profanity was permitted, and was told yes, no problem. So at one point in the narrative I had Holden encounter a couple of roughs listening to the most vile, misogynist, pornographic song lyrics I could come up with (to provide some context, this was back when 2 Live Crew was in the business of offending Tipper Gore, so it was topical material.) My friends were all convinced I was going to get suspended for submitting it, but, hands shaking and stomach churning, I did anyway, and got back a perfect grade with about a page’s worth of handwritten, single-spaced comments as my teacher went back and forth on whether or not I should have included those lyrics – calling them disgusting, dirty and inappropriate, but ultimately recognizing what I was trying to do (that it was fiction, not an endorsement or reflection of my actual attitude) and that ultimately I was writing at a level far beyond that of my peers. I know that’s not how the story is supposed to end – it’s supposed to end with me failing the course, being told I’m an embarrassment to the written word and only much later blossoming into a revered, bestselling genius, right? But that’s not my story.
My story isn’t Hollywood or even novel-esque, but it could not have gone any other way. I’m not going to be the bespectacled book blogger who crashes Goodreads with tomes of reviews and lands a six-figure deal for a debut novel. I won’t be the literary thought leader with thousands of Twitter disciples hanging on the next 140 characters of brilliance to come tumbling from my thumbs. I won’t be the guy who was always annoying his friends by yammering on about the stories he wanted to write and one day wound up executive producing a hit television show. I’m just going to be me, whoever and whatever that is and turns out to be. So one has to set that aside and get back to the bare essence of what it’s all about – arranging letters into words and sentences in a manner that will hopefully find its way to someone else’s eyes, mind and heart. Taking the victories where they come and shrugging off the slights. Keep on keeping on, because I honestly don’t know what else I’d do with myself.
And that, ladies and germs, is why I write.
In the spirit of the blog hop, I hereby nominate Raishimi and Nillu Stelter, both stellar smiths of words whose passion and raw talent has managed to dislocate my jaw for the sheer number of times it’s dropped when reading their stuff. Looking forward to your take on what drives you to pursue this crazy craft.