My “Why I Write”

As I was putting together materials for my MFA applications, I came across this piece I started about a year ago. It served as the jumping off point for pieces of my personal statement, but it also served as simple confirmation that I was starting on the right path. And I needed that.

I write because I feel alive when I’m forming words into sentences and phrases and ideas. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes I’m afraid that there’s nothing out there in this world for me. I remain unfazed by so many opportunities, seemingly incapable of caring enough about my life to really start much of anything worthwhile. But then I look at a blank piece of paper or a Word document and I remember what it is I can give to the world. I turn from soulless to substantial. I have no choice but to write, if I want to retain what’s left of my humanity.

I am a painfully insecure person. I constantly doubt the potential of my own contribution to the world we live in, and it hurts every time my suspicions are confirmed. Not good enough. Couldn’t get the words out. Couldn’t hack it in academia. Couldn’t lock down the boy before he got tired of you.

I write because I give voice to the hurt and it hurts less. Because it makes meaningful the things that seem so senselessly unfair. Because it makes me believe that there’s a reason for me to wake up every morning and try, only to fail again.

Talking is difficult. Words never come out the way I want them to. I think about them, plan them out, but they spill out unpredictably until I’ve said something I never meant to say at all. They are untrustworthy. It is only in the act of writing that they make any kind of sense.

I think too much. I overthink the things I do and say, running them over and over in my mind until the intention is gone and they are left devoid of all significance. And if I am full of meaningless acts and sentences that boast some vague air of moral rightness, of safety, what kind of robot am I? But then I take up a pen.

I write because in writing, I discover all the things I cannot know. I find the uncertainty and instead of letting it scare me, turn me into a coward, I let it consume me until I am so exceedingly raw that no one would mistake me for anything but real. It cuts me open and I bleed the kind of honesty I could otherwise never find.

I have been shattered into pieces time and time again, and all the pieces are different shapes and sizes, and sometimes I wonder if they will ever fit together into one cohesive whole. This is my tragedy, that I am contradiction after contradiction and the world wants to fit me into a box that says “creativity” or “analysis” when I’m so fundamentally meant for both. But art lets me fit into more than one box. Art lets me disassemble the boxes and flatten them so I can lay down and look up at the stars.

Writing is the art that makes me human.

I write because I must. Because to stop would be to deny my own reality. Because it is as essential to me as oxygen. Because I am afraid that without it, I am empty of all meaning. I will wither away until my body is nothing but a shell for my wasted soul.

But I also write because it gives me clarity. Because it takes a world full of things that are senseless and unexplainable and terrifying, lays them bare and lets them be. Because it brings peace I cannot know through any other means. I accept my tragedy and live in the understanding that nothing is ever certain and that I am a beautiful, mysterious paradox.

I write because I am alive. It’s as simple as that.


Who Am I?

I. A daughter

I was born to walk the middle ground, the first child of type A and type B
[and what does that make me?]
Constantly stuck between too small and too tall,
Talks too little, reads too much, sings too loud,
Hips too big, mouth too small,
Needs too little, wants too much, dreams too big.
I am a combination of everyone I’ve ever known,
But mostly I am too much like my mother,
And too much like my father,
[and too torn between the two people I am to really know who to be.]

II. A sister

I had bite marks on my back and my arm in a sling
Because that’s what it means to have your thunder stolen
When your parents decide to procreate again.
[I guess it also means feeling important,
Because someone looks up to you so much
That it makes you want to be better than you would be for yourself.]
And I would have laughed if you said someday I’d be proud
To have him for a best friend,
But the first time he asked for my advice
[because he thought I was wise]
I thought maybe the bite marks were worth it.

III. A friend

I learned more about friendship from the people who didn’t stick around
Than from the ones that did,
Because I learned when to hold on
And when to let go.

IV. A scholar

I’ve been taught to question everything.
[“Don’t be so gullible, Gwen,”
I hear as I fall for another stupid joke.
“Don’t believe anything you can’t prove.”]
I go to class and they tell me,
“Think critically, Gwen. Pick it apart. Find the truth.”
But I don’t think there’s just one truth.
I think sometimes the truth is that you don’t have to question everything.
[my professors disagree.]

V. A writer

My fingers bleed a lot because I pick the skin,
My brain bleeds words because, because?
[because it’s the only way I know how to feel.]

VI. A survivor

Once I thought that to be happy,
My bones had to poke out of my skin,
And my worth as a person was dictated by a number
On a scale
[or the label of my jeans.]
But when I stopped chasing perfection,
I found someone wonderful,
[Daughter, sister, friend
Scholar, writer, survivor]
I found me.


Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t usually write poetry.

Throwback Thursday: A Poem

“Identity” (11/12/08)

Who am I?
Who says I know?
I am a jigsaw puzzle
Made of a million different pieces—
Some are lost,
Some are dusty,
Some haven’t been placed yet
Because they haven’t found anywhere to fit.
Some people give up and say I’m too hard to figure out.
How can you go anywhere
When you can’t even put yourself together?
But I don’t have to know where all my pieces are,
They don’t have to fit.
I am incomplete,
But I look ahead.
There’s a picture on the box
Where I see myself whole.

Who am I?
Who says I have to know?
My future is calling,
And I’m calling myself
To define nothing,
To experience everything,
To pretend I’m not looking for those pieces
And let them show up on their own.
Who am I?
I am undiscovered,
I am a mystery,
I am a million little pieces
Just waiting to become something beautiful.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon the table

When I first read T.S. Eliot’s careful words my junior year of high school, I fell in love.

Why was I drawn so strongly to this poem? Maybe it was the fact that I actually felt like it was written by a real person in language that at least tried to be understandable (unlike “The Waste Land”). Or maybe it was the fact that when I read it out loud, I could feel the emotions behind the words even when I couldn’t quite put them together logically. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about in class that day, so clearly the deeper meaning wasn’t too important to me. So…what?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I hate most poetry. I suffered through many a unit in school, reading Plath and Dickinson and Browning and Yeats and Bryant and Shelley until I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I usually complain about how poets just talk in circles and never say what they really mean. I’m even soulless enough to dare to dislike Shakespeare. I know, I should be embarrassed to call myself a writer. But I’m just trying to illustrate my extreme level of aversion to most rhyming, metered, and free-form verse.

Something about “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is different than any other poem I’ve ever read. I don’t care that I can’t make sense of it. I just love it. I have an online copy of the poem bookmarked in my web browser so I can read it whenever I want. I also keep a Word document of it in Dropbox so I can read it offline on my computer and phone. And, to complete the accessibility suite, I have a handwritten copy in the back of my journal.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor —
And this, and so much more? —
It is impossible to say just what I mean!

For some reason, the speaker of this poem is just universally relatable. I feel his desperation so deeply that it’s physically painful. I can tell he is trying so hard to tell me how he feels – and although my brain doesn’t process his language as comprehensible sentences, the imagery he creates is powerful enough that it doesn’t matter. I think that’s what all poetry is supposed to be like, but nobody was ever able to convince me that it worked until I was introduced to Mr. Eliot here. And nobody’s been able to convince me of it since.

I want my tombstone to read, “She dared disturb the universe.”

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.