Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Compulsion

I can barely remember a time when I didn't call myself a writer. I've been scribbling stories since I was a kid and ripped off the plot of "The Popcorn Dragon" (a lame story I read in school) and called it my own. I've written plays for puppets, scripts for magic shows, and newspapers with single copy subscriptions.

I've kept journals off and on, written short stories and essays about my life. When I was a teacher, I was most energized when I was helping students work through the painful process of writing. For a two year period, I even worked at a serious level on a book of poems, and emerged with a degree in creative writing. I still claim the title of poet, though I haven't written a single line of verse in six years. I call myself a writer, because I think in terms of character, voice, and phrasing. I understand the world through metaphor, often living figuratively instead of literally through struggle.

In my teaching history, I've come across many who were afraid to claim the title of writer, afraid to let their own voices be enough to share their experiences. So maybe it's my training to encourage reluctant and timid writers that allows me to so freely call myself a writer. After all, I've been telling my story my whole life on the page, what else would I be?

However, there's always been a disconnect between my willingness to claim the role of writer and my ability to maintain it as a constant in my everyday life Writers when interviewed always talk about the urge to write, the compulsion, the hunger, the NEED to get words on the page, to create, to tame the beast that compels them to listen to the characters or the ideas that are speaking to them in their heads. While I recognize I'm lacking the ambition and drive that would push me out into the frightening arena of publication, what's more puzzling is that for much of my life, those beasts and voices simply haven't been hounding me. I could go long stretches, years even, without writing anything of real substance.

Part of it was that I never saw a purpose to what I was writing. I'd jot down a scrap of this, an encapsulated essay on that, a line or two that really captured the essence of how I was feeling at a particular time, and then the blank book I'd started would be abandoned until I had to do a timed writing assignment along with my students, wherein I'd jot down another thought or two. But they were all jumbled up, no real order or direction to any of these ramblings about myself, and certainly no audience. For that is something we discussed a lot in my writing classes. Who is your audience? What are you writing this to accomplish? And the answer to that question was always 'I have no idea.' So the blank book would get put on a shelf, until I got another one as a gift, and the process started anew.

Until that is, until I found this blog. And suddenly, there was a format that fit exactly all the writing I'd been doing all these years. Certainly, it's not as polished as the writing I did back when I was a practicing poet, but then I had a workshop to answer to, and an assignment every week, and time and reason to revise. But every day, I flip open my laptop, and staring back at me from the bookmark bar is the title of my blog and the reminder that I probably didn't write anything yesterday, or the day before, or maybe even the week before.

And while there are not so many of you that make up my audience, there are a few, and so I feel an obligation again to produce. If only to gain the satisfaction of a couple of written comments, or the idea that my husband who is traveling will have a concrete way to participate in the activity Small World while he's absent, more fleshed out than I'd be able to convey in a phone call. And certainly, it's for me, as well. The days I can compose a post and actually get it on the blogger screen are days that I feel like I've won the battle against entropy that is raising small children.

I don't achieve poetry here, not that often. I don't even get half of what I'd like to write down. There are times when I get so overwhelmed by the fact that I've missed so many moments that I wanted to digest, crystalize and treasure that I can't even write a single word. But always, I am drawn back in, beckoned by the blogs of others that I read and am in awe of, ones that can coax beauty and sense out of almost every single day in the form of a post.

There are times when keeping a blog seems far too much for me. I get a sick headache feeling when I try to figure out where in the day I'm going to carve out the moment to do some writing other than in my head. But guess what?

I'm writing in my head.

Nearly all of the time.

HOLY CRAP.

That sick headache, I fear, means I'm becoming even more the real writer I've claimed to be for so long, but was secretly afraid I wasn't. The beasts whisper to me in the night of posts I'm supposed to be writing. The voices of my children, my characters, long to speak from the screen. So many of these ideas and stories have slid away from me before I've gotten there, and I feel actually sick about it. Today I realize that this means I'm doomed.

Doomed and compelled to continue to be a writer.

5 comments:

CaraBee said...

The title of "writer" is a funny one. One doesn't have to be published to be a writer, but without it, it feels bombastic to call myself that in any sense other than casually. But you, my dear, are a writer, and a darn good one. It's not frequency that matters. Even if you don't get every memory down, you get the meat of your life, and that's the important part.

mep said...

"Doomed and compelled to continue to be a writer."

That's good news for the loyal Small World readers!

Beautiful post. You are a wonderful writer and continue to be an inspiration to me (as a writer, a mother, a teacher, a friend).

The satisfaction I feel when I post is so real and it always seems there are more ideas than time. One of these days . . .

Anonymous said...

You were the only one out of our crew at MU who I felt was really a writer. I always looked forward to workshopping your poems. I haven't written a line of poetry in six years either. Or anything else. With kids, every day is full of profound moments. So maybe if I ever have kids, I'll become a writer again.

Angie W

sumnonrabidus said...

Doomed and compelled to be a writer. By training a musician. By compulsion a writer. Martin Luther is my hero: 'HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER.' No other but write, that is. It's not a bad way to live, just damned inconvenient at times. So keep writing. You ARE a writer as is evidenced by your posting here. I, on the other hand, produces upwards of 3,000 words a day, and neither I nor anyone else can say without question that it's writing.

Tina said...

Sometimes it's because other people who aren't writers are quick to attack them or put them down.