The other day, a drunk man at a bar asked me why I do what I do.
“What? Drink Honig Sauvignon Blanc?” I asked, my personal bartender Windsor rolling her eyes in dismay.
“No, wretch. Write,” he replied. Yes, I know him a little.
I’ve never really stopped to think about why I write. But now that I have a moment, and encouragement from someone on his fifth Pinot, I’ll try.
I grew up without money. We had no phone and no car. It was a little more difficult, therefore, to encounter other people.
I knew they were out there, but I wasn’t really sure what they were like.
Naturally, my parents preferred it if the other people I met were those who met with their approval. Writing was the only way to reach beyond their grasp and my neighborhood.
I’d secretly advertise for pen-pals in music and speedway magazines. The mere concept of a pen-pal seems quaint now that we can spy on anyone and ‘friend’ them if they seem especially interesting.
In those days, though, a letter was the only personal contact I’d receive from the outside world. The anticipation was so extreme that if the mailman didn’t have anything, I’d hold him personally responsible.
Of course, I preferred my pen-pals to be girls. Girls seemed to have far more thoughts and feelings. They were better at writing too.
What I learned, most of all, was that you could write down words that might make others embrace you, if only for a virtual moment.
As technology began to embrace us all — the embrace of a Mafia don who knows he’ll bend you to his will — writing still worked.
Sometimes, it worked too well.
Once email came along, if someone upset me I’d be able to get my own back (or so I thought) by writing them a few pithy and immediate thoughts.
I didn’t stop to think that those words could be misinterpreted. Worse, once those thoughts were written down they would have a permanent life, rather than one attributable to a momentary lapse of the mouth and forgotten over a two-hour dinner.
They could be referred back to again and again as evidence that I was intemperate, myopic, deranged, misguided or, worst of all, right.
Look what you said! Look!
The more I write, the more conscious I am of what I’m writing. Not less, more.
But once people started paying me to write — especially when the audience became bigger than I’d ever imagined — I realized that my writing revealed aspects that might not have enjoyed other outlets.
I must be writing every day because I’m desperate to write, though I can’t always express in clauses that begin with ‘because’ and ‘in fact’ what the real meaning of the writing is.
More often than not, I know I write between the lines, in the hope that someone, somewhere will instinctively gravitate to my true intentions — hopefully before I have.
The people we most want to have contact with are those who don’t accept the apparent, literal evidence.
They’re the ones who see something more, feel something more and observe things about us that we have never articulated (or even realized) ourselves.
Isn’t everyone taken aback by the psychic who reveals a hidden truth?
I write, it seems, because I seek psychics.
Sometimes, I get very nice messages. Sometimes, I get hate mail, comprised of aggressive explanations of why I’m stupid, ignorant, right-wing, left-wing, fascist, communist, Christian, atheist, Apple-loving, Samsung-loving, corrupt, biased and plainly insane.
At heart, though, now that I’ve been asked, I’ve decided on the main reason I write.
I write for the silent.
So many words are tossed about every day, each one hoping to carry with it a meaning, a feeling, a hope, a laugh, even a victory.
The silent, though, are the ones who come back every day in order to listen a little and have their own quiet internal conversation with your words.
It’s the silent who are always the largest in number. It’s the silent who keep the world spinning, despite the fact that the noisy movers, the loud shakers and the shiveringly rapacious claim they’re the ones who do.
If I’ve made the silent laugh involuntarily just once, on a bus, on a train, in a maternity ward, at school, I’m grateful.
If they see something in words written down that makes them feel better, I’ve done something good.
I write because I want to talk to them. I write because it’s my weakness to want to talk to them. I write in the hope that I’ll make a difference to perhaps two or three minutes of their day.
I can hope for no more than that.
There’s something amusing about a picture supposedly being worth a thousand words, and people often going to war over something that’s been said or written.
A few words are worth any volume of looks when, as a nerdy friend of mine did, you receive something like this: “I admire you because I’ve never met anyone with the ability to see a person’s depth with such clarity. You see situations for what they are, nothing more and nothing less. I suppose it’s your gift and your curse. I love you because you draw outside of the lines, as if your motto is ‘bow to no one.’ I’ve never met anyone whose words can be insulting one day, and then days later those same words are life changing, thought provoking. An insult transformed into motivation……..motivation to challenge yourself to live as nothing less than what you are. Thank you for opening my eyes. I love you.”
She dumped him a few months later.
Words, you see, can fool you far more than looks.
That’s why I write for the silent.