Why write? Why not? Why indeed?
I wonder if it is wrong somehow, or detrimental at least, to tell a child they are doing well, or that they could work wonders as an adult. We, parents, are told that to give a child negative information is bad for their development. I agree.
But what do I do with that expectation that was formed when a high school teacher told me that she would read me in the ‘New Yorker’ one day?
I didn’t believe it then. I still don’t. I’m in no way qualified to write anything that might ever be published. And by now, when I’ve known the ‘New Yorker’ since childhood – I think Mummy and Daddy had a subscription – I’m paralyzed with a rock of a fear of writing anything at all because it would just be silly. Useless. Pointless.
Where did the idea come from that I am incapable of doing something good or worthwhile? That one. I don’t know. I do know that it used to be a joy to write out something, to struggle to say what I wanted to have said.
Some of that joy still exists. There are times I write to make sense of something, to clarify what happened or how I feel. Other times I write to get solidification of an idea or a situation. And there is a strength and joy in getting to a place where I’ve said something that helps me, that brings me happiness, or peace. Whether or not it is ‘’good’’ is not up to me anymore.
I wonder sometimes if I took up visual arts because I was afraid of my written voice. I was not supposed to have a voice. I was to be only the voice for the voiceless, but not myself. I am to take care of others, not myself. I am to be concerned for others, make sure they are cared for, heard, well. Not myself. But a painting is silent, silent at least to the unlearned; silent in the way that I can sneak by the rules and say something without imposing anything as loudly as the written word.
And if it is uninterpretable, so much the better. Then I cannot be accused of being unclear, or vague, or dishonest or even worse: bold.
A hot pink or neon orange female nude might ‘’say’’ something to one person, something else to another, and there is less of a need to say anything back. The written word, on the other hand, seems to elicit response, interaction, in a way that a shy scared girl wants to avoid at all costs.
One school camp, many many years ago, I was actually noted for being so silent that the dorm mother said she barely knew I was around. At the time I was not certain if it was a compliment; I still wonder sometimes. I hated that she had called me out in public and made her observation in front of everyone. Some girls laughed, some craned their necks to see who she might be talking about. ‘’Who?’’ Who’s that?’’ ‘’Dunno, never seen her before.’’ The purpose was lost, my cover blown. I was miserable the rest of the time, albeit only about 24 hours.
In high school, I lived behind visual arts classes. I could do just about anything and it was praised; I never believed much of what was said and on into college where I majored in studio arts. I was praised and guided and critiqued and was safe. In fact, I didn’t go out on any limbs artistically. I mastered a few methods in a narrow flex of media and never departed from that. Safe.
Perhaps now it is difficult for me to try art again because I judge myself, knowing I was a chicken in school, a mediocre student with a scared habit that ate creativity and imagination, and never ventured into greatness.
But should that be the point? The sorting out of images and phrases, the relief it brings, that peace when the way it is said is satisfyingly full? That would be the best reason to write, to draw, to paint. If the collage that is life can be captured, even a moment of it, and held to be looked at again and again, that would be ‘greatness’. A personal thing, for personal reasons, and that might be enough.
Holding that thought, I might venture more securely into the foggy whirlpool of doubts, perimetered by fears, searching out each step carefully, but moving firmly into an unknown, based on trusting my own instincts. I will write my friend a letter, and see what I have to say.
M. E. Gardiner is the pen name for an American woman writer living in Liberia, West Africa, a country she also lived in as a child, as a global nomad. She doesn’t yet have a website, blog or Twitter account.