Because I Have To

I gave it a go. It was a good go, because it taught me something about myself that I know, that I have learned again and again, but that I apparently will never stop needing to re-learn.

W. Somerset Maugham said, “We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.”

So it was with him, so it is with me. Since I was a child, I wrote on everything. Scraps of paper, napkins, notebook margins, backs of quizzes. once even a gum wrapper. Usually it was poetry; sometimes a whole poem, sometimes a couplet, a line, a single turn of phrase. They weren’t great because I was a kid, but I had to write them down. Sometimes when I couldn’t find something to write with or on or when I was stuck in a situation that made writing impossible I would start to feel a little panic-stricken. I’d recite what I wanted to write again and again, trying to make myself memorize it, trying not to talk or engage in conversation or let myself be distracted by anything around me. Inevitably, though, I would be distracted and I would forget. It always felt like an incalculable loss, those words slipping back into the ether of my mind, from which they might arise again but never in the same exact form.

My college notebooks tell the same story. Sometimes a page of meticulous notes will break off in the middle into a sonnet, with a few hasty words scratched at the bottom like *Tiresias & chorus*** or *James & Charles, Charles & James, these are the Stuarts, remember their names!!** Sometimes there’s just a date, class name, and book we were studying at the top, and the rest is filled up with bits of rhymes and images and poetry that lapses into prose. There were nights when I would skip a party or a 40′s night and hole up in Upstairs Haggar where I knew no one would bother me, sink down deep into the cushions, and write.

There are only a few periods in my life when I just did not write. The first was when I quit doing drugs. I still wrote papers, but I felt like whatever part of my mind had created poetry and delighted in words had been starved to death. Not like it had disappeared, but like it had died, painfully and in agony, and it was only when I stumbled upon its emaciated corpse that I even realized it. Junior Poet was more than a class for me that year; it was like undergoing an extensive, painful operation that restored a lost sense. My poet in particular did more to heal my soul than antidepressants and talk therapy ever could have.

Writing was never the same for me after that. It was never as spontaneous, never as effortless, never again a sheer, unsullied delight. But it was still necessary, and although the words were rarer, they were better.

I stopped writing again when we first moved to Vegas, after I got rejected from the MFA program at UNLV. I took it as a rejection of any possible future in which I might be a writer and resolved to close that chapter of my life and focus totally on being a wife and mother.

It was a disaster. I was depressed, and not “just a little blue” but manically, frighteningly depressed. Suicidal ideation became a kind of companion in those days, something I knew I would never do because I loved my family too much, but that was such a sweet relief to contemplate. Then my sisters-in-law  and I went to see Julie and Julia, and the idea of blogging opened a window for me. Some way out, I thought then, even if I have to jump.

After I started reading blogs, started my own, and felt my life transform from an extended prison sentence into an actual, enjoyable life, I realized that it wasn’t a window to let me out but a window to let light in.

People always say that addicts are looking for an escape, but I’ve never bought that line. It was never true for me, at least. I never wanted a way out of my life. Or at least, I didn’t want a way out of the people and circumstances that surrounded me. I wanted a way out of the bleakness that colored everything grey. I wanted a way to be at peace with my life. To feel joy.

It’s the same with writing. I keep hearing from strangers, friends, and echoes in my head that I need to put the writing aside and give this time to my family, that my primary responsibility is in my home, that if I choose to blog instead of clean the bathrooms or take the kids to the park I’m being selfish and putting my own ego ahead of my family. My own selfish desires ahead of their needs.

Maybe those voices are right, and maybe this is all just a manifestation of how utterly self-centered I am, but I am miserable when I’m not writing. It’s not something I can talk or pray myself out of. It’s not something I can cover up with a happy face and false optimism. I know. I tried this week. I tried really, really hard. I even thought that maybe it was some sort of horrific case of internet addiction, but the thing is, I wasn’t offline. I was still on facebook, still on Twitter, still answering emails and reading blogs. I just wasn’t writing.

I talked with the Ogre about it for a while this morning. We both agreed that I’m too stressed, overwhelmed, and just plain busy to keep up the way I was, trying to juggle everything and feeling guilty when everything suffered. I thought about writing in a different way for a while, maybe longhand in a journal, maybe going back to poetry or pure fiction, but blogging fits my life right now. It’s infinitely faster to type than write, and life with lots of small children, with the constant noise, chaos, and interruptions, is not conducive to writing poetry or fiction. Blogging works right now for a reason.

But something has to give, and that something has to be the most non-essential thing I do with my time. And this is so painful to admit, but that something is facebook. Social media in general really, and non-essential emails, but mostly just facebook.

I’m not going to close my account or anything. I’ll still share posts there and update my status and check in during the endless hours I spend rocking Lincoln (who throws a fit if I try to hold a book while rocking him, the little angel) but I just can’t do the discussions or messages or any of it. I really hate that, because I love facebook, but it really is a hideous time sink. So please don’t be offended if I don’t respond to facebook messages or even emails…I read them all, but I just don’t have time to respond.

The thing is, while I was mopping the bathroom today I mentally composed a philosophical treatise on the virtues of different types of mops depending on things like floor composition, baseboard cleaning habits, upper arm strength, energy and endurance, and so forth. It was witty in places, enlightening in others, and probably about five pages long before I realized what the hell I was doing. Even if I try not to write, I’ll still be writing, it’ll just be about stupid stuff that will make me question my sanity. Better to write it down here and let you question my sanity.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I know how you feel. :)

  • Jocelyn

    I’d love to read your post on cleaning bathroom floors! :)


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