Someone recently asked me to explain why I write. The one question I have been avoiding since the moment I started writing.
I remember waking up early on weekend mornings in our house in Coral Gables - leaping out of bed to get paper and a pencil, only to crawl back under the covers. I scribbled about anything and everything - fiction stories about best friends and circuses and Jewish holidays. I doodled illustrations in the margins. I can't mark an exact moment - something inside of me told me to write, and so I did. It was the sole arena where I felt in control of any artistic ability I may or may not have had.
I always say that I hate drama but in actuality I am one of the most dramatic people I know. The difference is, I am only dramatic with myself. Everything in my life is about translation to paper. When I was a senior in high school, I visited my boyfriend at college. He was a freshman at Tulane and pledging AEPi. The day I arrived, he was in the midst of a pledge project and was not allowed to be dismissed until it was completed. He sent me out with his friends. There I was, barely 18, sitting at some bar by myself (his friends were there, but I FELT alone) in the middle of New Orleans, alternating between vodka and cigarettes. It was wonderfully dramatic. I don't even smoke! What a great story this will make, I thought. It just felt like the right thing to do - something a writer would do and then brag broodingly about years later. Case in point.
I decided to major in creative writing (it falls under the English bracket) in college because it felt like the right thing to do. On the first day of classes, I walked in and had a revelation. Oh my God, I thought. Writers are weirdos. We were quite the eccentric bunch. It was a gathering of people I did not understand and surely they did not understand me. On the first day of a poetry workshop, I was paired with a girl who couldn't have been any more different from me. She was from the backwoods of Florida and dressed in oversized shirts and combat boots. She was engaged yet the most unfeminine to-be-wed I'd ever encountered. We initially exchanged scowls but somehow, someway, grew to appreciate the oppositeness we saw in one another. I will never forget walking into class one day in a popped collar, big sunglasses and high ponytail. She smiled and exclaimed, "Oh, look at you! I love you. You're like a movie star." I was reminded that sometimes the best way to see yourself is through the most unlikely pair of eyes.
That's what writing is about, isn't it? A bunch of people who don't understand one another, grasping for someone who just might, through jumbles of words and phrases. I feel like I really do understand Vonnegut and Updike, but who knows? And if they met me today, I'm sure they wouldn't understand. But I sure hope that someday someone will.
Such are the struggles of being a writer. I am reminded daily that everything I've suffered lately - sickness, stress, losing weight, losing sleep - isn't really suffering. It comes with the territory. This is being a writer. Self inflicted drama and all.
Why do I write? Because it feels like the right thing to do. No more and no less.
It's many years later, and I still do much of my writing under the covers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I see the gray in a world of black and white.