Something my mom always used to say: “If I wanted to be a CEO, I would’ve been a CEO.” It wasn’t an arrogant statement; it was an acknowledgement that nothing about the life of a CEO appealed to her. She wanted to be a mom, and she was quite proud of telling anyone who would listen that they could do whatever they wanted, but for her, mom-hood was it.
So I’ve been thinking about why I write. In this hyperlinked world, it’s easy to lose track — or it’s easy for me to lose track. But it’s important to remember what writing feels like, and how that feeling has motivated every twist and turn of my life.
It’s not me. It’s the words. It’s the way words flow together, connecting and building and becoming things. I’m sure other writers have had this experience, when you go to change one line of a poem/essay/letter of recommendation and find yourself having to change other lines because to pull on one thread means something else becomes misshapen and you want it to be beautiful so you work and work to make it that way. I imagine it’s like painting, or like Bob Ross’ paintings. He’d always want to add a tree to what I thought was a finished picture. I’d yell at the screen Don’t. I’d get physically agitated. But it always worked out, and that’s not the point anyway. He worked the painting until it was done. Until it was done.
That’s the way I feel when I’m working on a story. I’m not thinking about publication, or what the story might do for me. I’m thinking about how I can make it flow. When I get lost in that desire — to create something whole, as even violent stories and poems can be — when I’m secondary, serving the lines rather than them serving me, that is where I feel at home, and have for as long as I can remember. It’s the words, the piece, spoken or written. I’ve been blessed with credit, but the only thing I’ve ever cared about was whether I did the words justice. “Did you like it?”
That and when the desire to promote myself rises, bad shit happens.Journal, 16 January 2020
They told me what an orgasm was. They showed me how it worked. Lots of effort went into its making, and you needed something close-by, a rag or sock (for the cleanup). But it felt good, so good, and so I said yes, and yes, and YES! and began the road to Bliss. They told me what sex was for, what its end and purpose. They showed me lots of playful children. They seemed to run everywhere, and you had to keep an eye on them (loud little shits). But since I was once a child, and had some happy memories, I said okay, that sounds about right. Okay. They told me what my life was for. They talked in terms of sacrifice. Honor. “All gave some, but some gave all.” And tears slipped out of their eyes. So, looking at the soldier’s head-stone, it seemed right to forget myself, settle the debt I’d somehow incurred. But then I rode an hour-long orgasm, waited amazed for my bliss to subside, didn’t need a rag, produced no children, and thought something they didn’t teach me: No.
There I was, sitting like a small child on the floor, looking up at the television screen as I would a teacher who seemed to understand something profoundly important. The show was Sense8. Nomi Marks was listening to Lito Rodriguez at the Diego Rivera Museum; he’d just chosen the safety of a lie over the danger of his love for Hernando Fuentes — career over truth, security over honesty.
And then Nomi says this:
At a certain point I realized there’s a huge difference between what we work for and what we live for.Sense8
Change my life? Or remind me of what I already knew?
I think that’s the purpose of art: to remind us of what, deep down, we deeply know but somehow easily forget.
A Room of One’s Own
For my belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.A Room of One’s Own