Day 211 1/29/14: Why I Write

I wrote this as an assignment in a workshop that I’m taking & thought I would share.

It’s interesting to remind myself why I continue to  write when I bitch about it constantly.


In adolescence, I felt driven by a mania to record, an anxiety about days slipping by. No experience had been fully lived until I transcribed it in my notebook. I remember the minutiae of make-out sessions, the margins full of life. Now at middle age I’m even more aware of time passing, but I’m gathering up all those journals I’ve kept since 13, choosing only a representational sentence or two from each year and throwing them away. I want to record my feelings about time.  Will tossing piles of antique store ledgers, cheesy clothbound “nothing” books will feel like liberation, or a bandage ripped off too soon?

I will write about the experience of turning many books into one.

            Writing is a way of seeing. I’m not a painter or a scientist, although like Keats said, I’m aware of how the poet inhabits other ways of seeing. Although I love painting, I don’t see the world in terms of line or color.  I love nature, but I am far too messy to be scientific.

I write because I’m haunted by language. Lines get stuck in my head. In the summer of 2001, I could not stop thinking: “Late at night, when the signal is clear….” I don’t think I ever used it, but it led me deeper into the experience of summer. The landscape seemed to conform to it. Through its effortless repetition in my head, I saw correspondences, communion where I might have simply seen house, grass, trees, stonewall. That thin fragment unified everything.

I can’t figure out why I’m alive, so I write to justify my existence. I agree with the philosopher who said, “We all come here with sealed instructions.” Mine must have to do with writing, since it is the only skill I have. Through willed ignorance, learned helplessness and genuine indifference, I can’t do much of anything else. I’m in awe of  friends who make clothes and fix sinks, dig gardens and train dogs. I think of a certain line over and over, wearing it down in my head until the marrow shines through, or let it drift so it retains its essential lightness on the page.

My brother can build a house. I construct and dismantle shelters of words. Leaky, eccentric, or structurally unsound, but still I build and rebuild. Sometimes I inhabit one for a while, but I never get too comfortable. In writing, there’s only a fleeting sense of “home.” But if I can articulate that absence incisively, or at least beautifully on the page, then at least I’ve created a temporary refuge.