Why I Write. Thoughts on Writing in the Age of Relentless Despair

Photo by Raychel Sanner on Pexels.com

At the beginning of 2022, I decided I would write one blog post every week for the whole year. I set aside Friday mornings for this task, and around Wednesday, I start thinking about what this week’s blog post will be about. I play around with two, maybe three ideas, but I don’t make my decision until Friday morning when I sit down to write.

This week was no different. Next to me, I have a pile of books that I have read and that I want to discuss; it was only a matter of which book I would choose. But as I sat down, everything that has happened over the past weeks and months (years!) washed over me. All the ideas that I had been playing around with seemed futile and nonsensical. And why would anyone care about what I have to say, anyway?

It was the children of Uvalde, Texas. 19 children around the age of 10, their lives cut short for no reason, and those who can do something to stop it refuse to act. The small towns of Texas resonate with me on a different level than other small towns. When I was a child, my family traveled to Texas several times for family vacations. Because of my father’s job, these vacations were the few times when the whole family did something together.

On these vacations, we would spend two or three weeks driving around the hill countries, badlands, and deserts of Texas, stopping in the small towns that we passed along the way. I was too young to remember exactly where we went, but sometimes names of places resonate with me when I hear them, and the echo inside me always speaks back to me in my father’s voice. Eagle Pass, Laredo, Texas City, Luckenbach, Bandera, Langtrey, Uvalde.

And even though it feels futile to write a blog post this week, I sat down and did it anyway. Why? Because that is what I do. I write. As Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Arguably, this is her most famous quote, sometimes truncated, sometimes paraphrased, but I believe it is famous because it is true.

A writer writes, that is what makes a writer a writer. It is not the publishing contract or the byline that makes you a writer, nor is it the spinning rolls of paper at a printer’s plant or the code that creates a pdf file. No, it is the act of writing that makes a writer a writer.

Writers write for many reasons, but I think that at the core, we write for the same reasons that Didion wrote: We write to understand. And even though writers write about many different things, I believe that the thing we try and understand with all the things that we write is only one: Ourselves.

To be a writer is to be an observer. To be a writer is to be a person who reacts to their surroundings in such a way that it affects them emotionally.

A writer observes the world and reacts to what they see. This reaction triggers an emotional response and a desire to understand. The response and the desire create a need for release. The release manifests itself in the act of writing. Because, writing is an emotional act, an act that is all-consuming.

Gloria Anzaldúa calls writing “a sensuous act” that “produces anxiety” and “psychic unrest” before the act is committed and the writing complete. “To write, to be a writer,” she says, “I have to trust and believe in myself as a speaker, as a voice … .” A voice for whom? For ourselves.

Didion and Anzaldúa spoke about their personal reasons for writing, and in doing so, they put into words what the rest of us feel. Through the act of speaking in our own voice to express our need to understand, we end up speaking for others.

So, as I sat down to write this week’s blog post, I threw all my ideas to the side. Instead, I started typing in the blank box that my blog platform provides without knowing where I was going or what words would come out. I only knew I needed to say something, but I did not know what. The post that you have just read is what came out of my mind and my heart, through the movements of my fingertips, this Friday morning on May 27, 2022.

I wrote because I felt despair at the world. Too many people are dying for reasons that can be prevented. Mass shootings, war, pandemics and epidemics, climate change. I wrote because I needed to understand why today I felt this despair after nearly three years of sadness and chaos.

Now, I understand why I needed to write what I have written. It was the children of Uvalde. May their memories be a blessing, and may they be the last children to have their lives cut short in this way.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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