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.

  • Renee Lin

    Thank God I’m NOT the only one!!!!

  • Kassie Rutherford

    I thought of you when I read this.

  • Melanie B

    I can’t remember which of Kathleen Norris’s books it was in, but at one point she writes about how for her writing is a form of lectio divina. It is a type of contemplation and a means of conversing with God. And after I read that I was surprised to find that is true for me too. For me writing is often a kind of prayer. I hear God’s voice speaking to me, through me, as the words flow onto the page. And sometimes I have even found that my words are his way of talking to other people. How humbling!

    So I say this: God made you to be a writer. I think what you need to do is make sure
    that your writing gives glory to him. Which doesn’t mean to say that you
    must only write about religious things. I think your composed but
    unwritten post about mops would almost certainly give him glory. He made you to be funny and witty and insightful. Using those talents makes you happy because you are doing what you were made to do. Sure, you need to balance your need to write with your duties as wife and mother…. but only you (and your husband and children) can tell if you’re striking the right balance.

    Oh and a little voice keeps telling me I need to cut down on the beloved Facebook too. It is such a horrid time sink. If only all my interesting friends followed your lead, then I wouldn’t be tempted anymore.

  • Michele

    Haha…I love it! I’m sure we’d all love to read your pages of thoughts on floor mops ;-)

    Around a year ago I felt called to deactivate my facebook account…and it made me feel so much freer!!! So if you feel called to do that at some point know you totally won’t regret it.

  • Christina

    Thought of this wonderful old cartoon…

  • Jenny Uebbing

    I so get this. I quietly suffocate if I can’t write…and so does my sense of well-being, especially as a stay at home mom who spends very little real life time interacting with other adults on an average day. Blogging is a life preserver.

    And oh Facebook, I’ve tried to quit it so many times, only to come crawling back… I’m about finished with Elizabeth Scalia’s ‘Strange Gods’ and it is a fascinating, if somewhat unsettling, read.

  • TracyE

    For the last couple of years I’ve given up Social Media for Lent and I always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS feel so much better for it. Less stressed, less, rushed, less everything. It is to the point that I consider just doing what you are doing. Stepping away on a more permanent basis. Time suck indeed. Good for you and your sanity!!! Blessings!

  • Manic Doodlings

    Thomas Merton thought he could get out of being a writer when he entered a monastery. Thankfully, the Abbot as well as God were having none of it…

  • Jennifer Fulwiler

    As you can imagine, I love this post and can relate to every bit of it.

    Over the years I’ve come to see that every mom has her One Thing that she needs to stay sane. For one women it might be a biweekly girls’ night out with her best friends. For another it might be the extra budget for knitting or scrapbooking supplies. For another it might be the time to train for triathlons.

    For us, it’s writing. I used to struggle with this more, but now I have complete peace with the idea that I should make time to write *because* I care about my family. When I write it has the same effect of plugging a dying electronic device into its charger: it fills me with energy, and when I’m done, I have a new zeal to bring to all areas of life. It’s ends up being good not just for me, but for everyone around me.

    Sometimes I think that God designed it this way so that we wouldn’t keep the gifts he’s given us to ourselves. :)

  • tedseeber

    You really should start telling your kids bedtime stories that aren’t read from a book. With a voice recorder handy. And a copy of Dragon’s Naturally Speaking, I hear in the 10th version it has gotten much better.