I remember the obsession. I couldn’t tell you if there was snow on the ground or what scents were in the air, but it’s all-too easy to recall how tight my stomach was. How painful the beating of my heart.
It was an occasion that called for food and togetherness, as most are, and there was a laptop on the kitchen counter. While everyone talked and laughed, I was drawn to the glow of that screen again and again. My fingers itched to touch the pad, open the internet, see if there was something waiting for me. Finally, knowing how irritated my mother would be, I caught my aunt’s attention. “Do you mind if I use this for a few minutes?” I asked her.
“Of course,” she replied.
I tried to hide how badly I was trembling as I finally leaned toward the computer. The cadence of my pulse was deafening and erratic. Ignoring Mom’s glare, I logged into my account. When I saw that there was, in fact, a message, it felt like every organ within me tore free of its mooring. Blood rushed in my ears as I clicked on the subject line that read, Re: Query: BECAUSE.
Then, when I read that instantly-damning opening line, everything sank and slowed. Although this sounds like an interesting project, I’m afraid it isn’t right for me. Devastated, I closed the window and tried to school my expression into something resembling serenity. Mom, who had been keeping one eye on me, knew straightaway. “You shouldn’t have looked. Why do you do this to yourself?” she demanded.
It was a fair question. One that has lingered in my memory even when all the other details of that day have gone hazy. Why do I write? Why do I continue to sweat and toil over words—on getting them into the world—when pursuing other passions might be easier? That day, my mother presented me with a choice, and it didn’t occur to me that I should give up. To stop querying literary agents and take up knitting instead of writing novels that no one seemed to want. Not because it was habit or I had no other talents. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the truth, obvious though it may be.
I write to have a voice.
In every character, there is a part of me hidden in the depths. In every story, my own thoughts and revelations shine through. I may not fight dragons, but I fight oblivion. I don’t have supernatural abilities, but I possess the ability to create.
In the past, I’ve wondered whether I would continue doing so if every door kept slamming shut and I hadn’t gone on to be heard. Would having this voice be so urgent? After all, I go to university. I don’t live in an environment of oppression. I could join a debate team or a sorority. Social media is rampant. Would I still invest so much time and energy into this art?
The answer is clear no matter how much I think about it. Yes, I would. It doesn’t matter if anyone were to ever accept or even read what I’ve written, because the struggle is worth the result. Whether it’s a finely-honed story or just a sense of release, writing is an urge. It exists in the veins, where it can’t be taken or removed. With some, this is discovered later in life. But I felt it from the beginning, before I experienced classes and lessons and rules.
When I go back to that beginning, carpet stands out most in my memory. Brown, with swirls of texture. I sat there, surrounded by stacks of paper that emanated so much possibility to my young mind. My mom was usually out or at work. I had only a grumpy cat and a humming refrigerator for company, but that never bothered me. I had my characters and words. Sometimes, if I lose the enthusiasm or forget my passion, I go back to the days of that carpet.
There are occasions when writing is something different for me. There was a day in October, for instance, that it was about recording rather than speaking. I was at a car repair shop, where everything seems mundane and lackluster. The chairs were hard plastic and a news channel played in the background. I was alone in the waiting room except for a woman sitting across from me. At first, I was so preoccupied with my phone that I didn’t even notice anything was amiss. But gradually I realized the sounds coming from her were sobs. I lifted my head and had no idea what to say. All I knew was that I couldn’t remain silent.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I told her.
The woman looked at me. Tears had left gleaming paths down her cheeks. “My grandson died last summer,” she said. “I was cleaning out the backseat for the mechanic, and I saw his tiny handprints on the window.”
Her body shook with sobs. She mumbled something about washing the prints off, how she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I had nothing to offer her, but somehow, it seemed to be enough that someone had listened to her. Her crying subsided, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t the only one aching to be heard.
Later I went home, sat down, and typed a single sentence. The handprints haunted her. It didn’t go on to become a story or a nonfiction piece. Maybe someday that will change. For now, though, it was enough to simply put the words down and remember the woman and her grandson’s handprints.
But I hadn’t experienced this on the day my mother asked me her question. Those words are my own version of handprints on a window. Why do you put yourself through this? At that point, all I knew was the carpet and the urge in my veins. I didn’t let the rejection deter me. Now, it is my hope that others gain something from the stories I write. Whether it’s a brief escape, a moment of clarity, or the feeling that I’ve given them a voice alongside mine, the sweat and toil is worth it. From the girl sitting on that faded carpet to the person I have become, I am a writer. I record life and I explore it through the written word. This is my answer to anyone asking why I endure the struggle or indulge in such an impractical pursuit. The skepticism only makes me more determined. Some might say this is insane or just part of being a writer.
Personally, I think it’s a bit of both.