“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
Writing and reading have always been a form of escape for me. My mother tells me that I taught myself to read around age three. I can’t recall, but I do remember tearing through the World Book Encyclopedias at a furious pace when I was as young as five years of age. I read the backs of cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, mattress tags. No book was safe from my prying eyes, and at the tender age of thirteen I was deep into the classics, age-appropriate and sometimes not so much. Lady Chatterley gave me my first insight into sexual love. Which isn’t so bad, really.
I still have a diary that I kept when first learning to write. I was about six when I wrote on one page, “won mony pokr.” This succinct phrase instantly brings to mind a cherished memory of sitting with my Uncle Bob as he taught me the rudiments of poker. My stack of pennies grew as I learned the nuances of bluffing, betting, and judging the odds. I’m sure Uncle Bob took it easy on me, but that feeling of accomplishment as I clinked all my pennies into my pink ceramic piggy bank was a rare and precious feeling. By recording that moment in my tiny faux-leather diary, I saved the memory from the dulling effects of time.
Always painfully shy and awkward, it was difficult to make and keep friends. My best friends as a child were Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables, Scout, and Sarah Crewe. My first crush was Edward Rochester. I wished to be as beautiful, charming, and witty as a Jane Austen character. My romantic little mind constructed elaborate stories about the people that I could never bring myself to speak to. I imagined discovering a secret world under the dense kudzu, where fairies and trolls tasked me to bring back the amnesiac prince of the secret kingdom, a boy in my class who had forgotten who he was.
As a writer, I am able to make my feelings known and give voice to the thoughts that often can’t be spoken aloud. My writer voice is opinionated and unafraid. She can say whatever she wants, detractors be damned! While my physical self sits quietly at holiday meals with extended family, listening to racist rants and ignorant political opinions, my mind is composing a treatise on the ethics of compassion and equality. That’s not to say that I never speak up, but it is usually a volcano-burst after much seething and roiling, serving to further alienate me from people who already seem alien to me. As I grow older, I find myself engaging people more, in an attempt to find common ground. I hope, as my fortieth birthday looms ever larger on the calendar, I will become more confident, less volatile. I am, after all, a grown up now, though I can hardly believe it.
Finally, this week, my biggest burden and obstacle to writing was lifted from me. So long I have been unable to sit still, to give order to this jumble of thoughts that crowd my mind and leave me barely able to function. Writing has always been my outlet and therapy. Without it, I have been stumbling through the days, unable to organize my thoughts, unable to focus on small tasks. My temper is quick, a pervasive weariness suffuses my body and my mind. Suddenly I have TIME, but I am not utilizing it very wisely. I crave the stillness and the peace that comes after purging my thoughts. And so, this limping attempt to bring order to the chaos of my mind. I know that someone will read these words, which somehow, I am not sure why, helps.