Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Why I write

Hey, you. Yeah, you, stranger. If you've just stumbled across this blog, here's a question: why do I want to write for you?

You don't know me. You've never seen me. If you're reading this -- which in itself is highly unlikely -- then all you know of me is text on a screen. For all you know, I might not even truly exist as a living being; perhaps I'm just an exceptionally well-written text generation program put together by a million-monkey coding team, capable of choosing random words like beads to string together in aesthetic patterns, mindlessly creating metaphysical jewelry to adorn the brain.

And yet here I am -- whether a human being or a cleverly-made machine or just a fey trick of the light -- spinning words out into the void, on the off chance you'll stumble across them.

Why do I write words here for strangers to find? It isn't necessary. If I'm so compelled to write, well, there are plenty of blank books, spiral notebooks, and bits of looseleaf paper in the world, waiting to be filled with words no one will ever read. And in fact I've already filled numerous journals and manila envelopes with reams of literary effluvia. But I write here because, for some reason, I want to reach you. And I'm not sure why.

As a child and young teenager I wrote for an audience of one: myself. I've retained the grade-school habit of not drawing or writing anything important on the first page or two of a notebook, always skipping a few pages in to write story ideas, because back then I feared what people would do to me if they ever read any of the random odd thoughts that came into my mind. In fact, during the most poisonous parts of my public school experience, I didn't put any stories on paper for fear they might be discovered. Instead I'd walk the perimeter of the fence at school, quietly murmuring stories to myself. No, it wasn't cool -- I knew that even then -- but it kept me going at a time when I was in desperate need of something to keep me going.

I still remember some of these stories, most of which were coping mechanisms -- little three-day weekends away from reality. They were all fantasies, the sort I wanted to read but couldn't find enough of in the school library: the detailed lives and adventures of a band of five-inch-tall people who lived on the banks of the creek just beyond the school fence; the story of a 19th-century English ghost bewildered by the vagaries of 20th-century American culture; the exploits of a gentle, friendly, changeable being who could be as tiny as a raindrop or sixty feet tall, just as he chose; a long series of stories describing just what I'd do if I managed to shake free a pair of wings from my back. The protagonists of these stories were substitutes for the real-life friends I couldn't seem to make. Having such friends -- the kind I could depend on completely because they were children of my imagination and thus just what I needed -- helped erase some of the pain of being nerdy, awkward, lonely, disliked, bullied, pressured and abused. When things got too bad, I knew I could escape to a hiding place where no one else was allowed in, where I could soar free above the trees in the cold early-morning air, talk with beings a twelfth my size, go ice skating with a warmly compassionate spirit, and fall asleep secure and safe in a giant's palm. Happily, none of these fantasies reflected a desire for revenge -- only the desire to retreat from pain into a refuge of comfort, safety and magic.

So, things change. Eventually I escaped some of the worst circumstances of grade school, embraced my inner geek, made a few close friends, and cautiously -- very cautiously -- began sharing some of the stories I deemed "less weird" with them. And, surprisingly, they didn't show me the door. In fact, some of them really seemed to enjoy what I'd written and urged me to write more. For the first time it was possible to entertain thoughts about letting other people see the world hidden behind my eyes -- as Roald Dahl might have put it, to throw open the doors of the Chocolate Room. The last few years have been an effort to shrug off the fear, to make that happen.

Yes, I'm still a big awkward geek. I'll probably always feel shy and introverted around strangers. I have a hard time figuring out how to reach out to other people. But here's the thing: now that I have some close friends -- kindred spirits who are creative, funny, compassionate, loyal, thoughtful; the very people I was wishing I'd find back in grade school -- I'm not as afraid to share those stories any more, and not just with the people I trust. So maybe that's the reason why I write for strangers: this is how I've learned to reach out. When I put stories online, I imagine walking to the top of a high hill, unlocking my chest and opening it up to set them free, and the stories scatter out in all directions like wild birds. Maybe one of them will find its way to you, and you will see a flash of color or hear its song outside your window and think, I've heard that song before.

Maybe it will mean that you and I were meant to be friends.


MarieC said...

As ever, awesome!!

Soozcat said...

Thanks, Marie. You're a good friend.

Even now it's scary to post stuff like this. I sat on this essay for a long time before getting up the nerve to press Publish.