Why I Write

“Dear Mom,” began my unskilled second-grade handwriting, “I had to write this because I didn’t know how to say it.” I looked at the penmanship, so familiar and yet so foreign, as it blared the reality of my life. At the time, it unleashed my childish fears and feelings. Now, as I read it again, it shouts of new fears–the fears and feelings of my adulthood.  It amplifies the shame I carry for being more comfortable with written words than people’s voices, and it echoes the coddled worry that something must be wrong with that.  The lead, smudged by the passing of my left hand, reveals a deep truth: I have not changed. I do not remember the day I wrote that letter, but I can sense the relief that warmed me as the point of my pencil flattened. I feel a cathartic whoosh as my burdens poured from my veins onto other thin, blue lines. Lines that someone else could read between and, hopefully, understand. I had found a way to release my burdens, my opinions, my thoughts. My self.

Many people have the divine gift of free speech. Of knowing what to say and letting their tongue springboard the message to their audience. I was not blessed with that gift–or perhaps it has just been misplaced and I simply have not opened it yet. Because of this, the first amendment troubles me. My speech is not free at all. It never has been. My brain is the militant governing body, the one that wrestles my mouth and puts it in a sleeper hold. It’s almost like a perpetual case of laryngitis: having something to say, being unable to say it, then resorting to a notepad to share the message with others. The only difference, though, is that everyone understands a medical condition and obliges to be patient with its victim. In the case of ‘social laryngitis’, however, people just look at you funny and wonder what the hell’s wrong with you. And what incentive is that to be social? Yet, every human has an innate need to be heard and accepted. Everyone longs to belong. For me, there was no epiphany, no moment of revelation. I just did what felt natural: I reached for my pencil.

I don’t write for the glory of writing. If that were the case, I’d throw down my pen and vow never to do it again. I mean, who would consider entire days spent silently staring at a computer to be glorious? Certainly not the people who look at you cock-eyed when you say that you’re a writer.

No, I write because, in the words of a very wise woman I know, that’s where my heart feels most at home. I write because my soul can only fully leak into the world through the tip of a ballpoint pen. The only way I can truly extend my hand to others is if it’s stained with ink, as any other lefty might understand. My life, then, is a complete contradiction: I long to reach the world by sitting in an empty room.

Growing up, my parents never put me in time out. Instead, I invoked the punishment on myself. If I was upset or knew they were upset with me, I ran to my room and locked myself in. The solitude was treasure, not torture. In my room I could busy myself with imagination. I could create stories and watch them unfold. During these moments, new worlds sprung up around me. It was the only time I actually played with dolls. And, by the end of the evening, my heart had rid itself of poison. I turned the golden knob of my sanctuary, listening as the lock clicked out of place. Then I strolled back into the world, humming an original tune that was known only to my lips. Somehow, even as a child, I understood that I was more connected to the world when I was alone. Or, at least, I understood that that was how I felt.

So, for me, writing isn’t merely a hobby. It is my first amendment. It is self-expression and socialization, connection and acceptance. It is me in my truest sense. It is essential.

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