Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why I write

The most annoying thing about therapy—yes, therapy, I spent a lot of time in New York and learned the value of therapy—is when the therapist tells you something and you say, “No, that’s wrong,” only to realize an hour later that it is right. Humph.

“You use your writing as therapy,” she said. “Yes, I agreed,” while inwardly thinking “It’s soooo much more than that.” Outlet for the rant of the day. Communication with family and far-flung friends in a kind of overarching, ongoing holiday letter. Platform for discussing issues that are important to me at work or in human interactions. Artful rearrangement of the events of my life in a way that might speak to my readers. A way to play with words or ideas, a rollicking gambol through my interior world.

“Doesn’t it bother you that it is so public?” Sometimes it does, but mostly it intrigues me, this border between private life and public, writing for self and writing for reader. There are issues that are not suitable for blogdom, either because they impinge on someone else’s privacy or are not adequately respectful of my reader or myself.

I try to write as if anyone might be reading, particularly the person that I least want to have read my writing—say the person I most annoyed lately, or the person who most annoyed me. I try not to be flippant, which I view as disrespectful, or to fall into the trap of ranting “Ain’t it awful!” which I view as lazy and irrelevant. I try very hard not to use cheap tricks to be amusing at someone’s expense, not to dine out on anyone’s distress. I fail in these goals from time to time, but I try to keep the overall thrust of my writing is respectful and thoughtful.

In the end, maybe the best reason I write is to cultivate that attitude of thoughtful consideration and respect. I’m as quick-tempered as anyone, but when I sit down to write about someone or some situation that is at the top of my consciousness, I am often amazed at what comes flowing out of that process. Many, many times, I have sat down thinking I knew exactly what the issue is—“that so-and-so is a jerk!"—only to have the writing process change my opinion, while I look on helplessly. Or I start writing about one subject that I think is top-of-mind, only to find that I need to change my title at the end. Humph.

Words are treacherous. We keep grasping for the right ones, falling back as we realize that we don’t have anywhere near enough common meanings to be able to communicate, and then in a flash, we do. It is a kind of magic, that moment of insight, just like that scene in The Miracle Worker when Helen Keller first understands what a word is.

Writing, for me, is like that, over and over again.

1 comment:

D L Ennis said...

Hi Karen, just found your blog. I have a blog called the Blue Ridge Gazette and I was wondering if you would like to take a look at it and think about joining us. We are looking for more writers from Maine to Georgia. Look at the kind of things we write about and see if you would be interested in writing about Vermont. To email me just click the contact us button in the side bar. Thanks!
D L Ennis