Why I write

I’m applying for a job that I think I really want. This school in Providence needs English teachers to teach arts integrated curriculum, which means they want people to use music, drama, film, and dance to teach language arts content. I have to write essays to convince the principal that I’m worth hiring. Talking about it is kind of a big deal, of the counting-your-chickens-before-they-hatch variety. Or it’s like when Kyoko Mori talks about why her grandmothers lived so long: “The moral of their story was that you shouldn’t wish for too much. The greatest virtue was in being content with less.” By talking about it before anything has actually happened, I feel like Mori did at one point in her memoir: “No matter what I was doing, I became terrified of bad luck when I openly wished for too much.

Normally, I wouldn’t even say anything until I found out whether or not I was accepted,  and I would feel sort of mortified if I were rejected. But this is the first time I’ve let people in on my “secret.” The first time I don’t care if I don’t get the job, because I know I’m qualified. And if they don’t like me, boo hoo for them. Their loss! Did I really just say that? 

This is one of the essay prompts: “Tell me about yourself as an artist.” 

I’m not sure I’m the kind of “artist” they’re looking for, because this is a performing arts school, and there are a lot of things I don’t do: 

monologues (I was Dorothy in my 5th grade school play, couldn’t take myself seriously)

play instruments (doesn’t count if I played flute in high school but was never in tune)

compose song lyrics (I don’t like rhyming poetry)

sing (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was WAY off key)

dance (I can’t even bend over and touch my toes)

But I can do other things. Those who know me know I can make ugly sweaters. I can draw cartoons with no facial features. And I can write. And wouldn’t it be nice to hire a teacher who could teach kids to write?

Why do I write?

I write to remember who I am. Our lives are galaxies of moments like so many stars blinking on and off. Some of these minutes and hours aren’t worth recollection; forgetting them is no great loss. But the defining moments that show others where we’ve come from should be trusted to the care of more than memory alone. Memory is too fragile, and only temporarily preserves what is worth remembering.

I write to speak new life into my own forgotten moments. The time I found a pair of tiny red rubber boots I never knew I had, but accidentally discovered on a recent trip home. My dad told me I inherited them from a cousin when I was two. My cousin skipped along the cobbled paths of Camden Market in those boots; I marched them through blueberry brush on the tundra of Northwest Arctic Alaska. Now, the boots live in Rhode Island, sitting their life on a shelf in limbo. Waiting for new feet and new landscapes, the boots will be my first family heirloom. But even when the boots trade hands among my posterity, they’ll still be mine, because I wrote their first story. Such things have to be written, because someday someone besides me will need to know what they mean.

I write to preserve moments I know well. The summer I studied illustration at the Pratt Institute. The oldest, but most inexperienced artist in the class. Perpetually in awe of my younger peers’ more refined technical skills. Conceptualized this news story in illustration:

Man in Florida raises alligators in basement (over 20!). Wife is aware of this, but forgets one day when she’s having friends over for sewing club—leaves basement door open—sounds of sewing machines arouse gators and they stampede the living room/sewing area!    

My picture. In pen, colored pencil, and pastels tacked to the wall, in line with all the others. Donn Albright, our teacher, surveying the wall, pausing at mine. Singling it out, saying, “Look at this one. Look at all the details!”

Later, Donn watched over my shoulder as I sketched another assignment, one that asked us to illustrate a twentieth-century inventor with his or her invention. I chose Hedy Lamarr, the bombshell Austrian-American actress of the 40s who helped devise the wireless communication method of frequency hopping. Donn looked at the outline of Hedy’s leg on my paper and said, “Her ankles are too thick. They look like salamis. Trim them down a bit, make them sexy.” Both of these illustrations turned out beautifully. But without the voice in the words I used to tell the story of the moments that made these pictures real, one simply looks at the images without ever knowing the truth: that despite how much the specters of the white canvas, the blank page, the empty computer screen scare me when I don’t know how to start to get the job done, I eventually find the way out of my trouble. If I don’t write these things, I’ll forget that I am stronger than I think I am.

I am so many moments like this. One day, those moments I’ve recovered from my past and the ones I remember so vividly today will hardly seem real years from now. But with every sentence carefully constructed, each word thoughtfully chosen, I’ll leave enough of me scattered through time for the able reader to piece together an idea of what I was, and what I am. And if I do this with words that keep company as good friends, making people laugh or cry or think better of the world, are there greater gifts to leave behind?

And so I write. It’s my best gift to give, a safeguard against inevitable, transitory passing.

Why do you write? What do you think about writing, memory, and the Church?

10 thoughts on “Why I write

  1. Oh Sarita, this was exactly what I needed to read this morning! (I also chuckled through the last post as a soulmate, though I understand the substitution.)

    I am going through a wilderness time right now and have been searching for my worth and my place (sort of a midlife crisis that has been going on for 5 years) and I needed to read “I don’t care if I don’t get the job because I know I’m qualified.” I think that confidence, before the mirror and before God, is so vital for each of us. Sometimes I have it, fleetingly, and then have to work to regain it.

    I loved your discussion of all the things you aren’t and “being content with less.” I am a late-blooming minimalist and have yet to extend that philosophy to my soul. It is time to pare away a few expectations and focus on my more meaningful ones. I don’t suffer from run-around-busyitis, or keep-up-with-the-Jonesitis, or impress-everyone-with-my-perfectionitis; I suffer from learn-everything-I-can-before-Thursday-at-twoitis.

    I have been lately rejected for two jobs that I would have been perfect for and would have loved (and really need) and it was devastating. It was so refreshing to read your “if they don’t like me, boo for them!”

    Writing is my salvation. I learn what I feel as I put in on paper or screen. I flesh out my ideas and pare away false dichotomies. I grow strong and am my own best counselor when I write. I feel the flow of inspiration for my life and my stewardships as I write. Writing sweeps away the cluttering chaff and exposes my goals and failings; what I need to do is usually obvious after I’ve written. I write to reconnect myself to larger cosmologies, longer timelines, bigger purposes and to then have peace with my place.

    And I read others’ writing for the same reason. Thanks.

  2. “Our lives are galaxies of moments like so many stars blinking on and off. Some of these minutes and hours aren’t worth recollection; forgetting them is no great loss. But the defining moments that show others where we’ve come from should be trusted to the care of more than memory alone. Memory is too fragile, and only temporarily preserves what is worth remembering.”

    Reading this gave me goosebumps; it is just how I feel, though I’ve never been able to articulate it quite like that. I’ve been writing since I was eight: poems, journals, stories, letters. All I know is, the times I stop writing, life stops, too. And I stop being me.

  3. Thank you! I needed this. I write professionally, as an attorney. My voice is in my work, but not my history. I must think about that.

  4. I hope you get the job! Have you heard back yet? I like this idea: “Some of these minutes and hours aren’t worth recollection; forgetting them is no great loss. But the defining moments that show others where we’ve come from should be trusted to the care of more than memory alone.” I think in my own journaling, which I don’t do often enough these days, I spend too much time on things that don’t matter and not enough on exploring the topics that matter most.

  5. I hope you get the job. I know what it’s like to not get that job you know you would be perfect for.

    I write because the voices in my head need to be heard (only a writer would understand that). I write to be remembered. Most people go through life and are forgotten within two generations. I write because one day I want to have a career doing what I love and having freedom that a nine to five job doesn’t allow.

  6. Ok, backspace to the beginning of today: I’m sorry. It was in no way intended to come across the way it did. I’ve learned my lesson, and thank you Segullah readers for helping me to realize that error. Won’t make that mistake again if I ever do another post!

    On another note, bonnieblythe, what a beautiful comment! I love the last part especially. As for the confidence, it’s the same for me–up and down. I keep thinking about Michelle’s February post, “Something good is coming your way,” as the rejections keep rolling in (at least 10 since our move). I guess the only way I know how to get over the rejections is to think that there’s a better opportunity, that the timing just isn’t right, that maybe I’m better suited for something else. But it’s HARD to just be happy with that too! I’m sure you feel something similar?

    Chicklegirl, thanks for reading. I couldn’t have said this better myself: “All I know is, the times I stop writing, life stops, too. And I stop being me.” Such a great line.

    Ann, I am the same way. Up until recently, the only writing I ever did was for work. This, from Carlos E. Asay’s July 1986 New Era article, is what got me thinking more about the need to write ourselves down:

    “I did not appreciate fully memories and self until I, with the help of others, compiled my oral history. I gave my wife a rough copy of my life story and asked her to edit it. My instructions were: “You know me better than I know myself, so please read it carefully and polish the manuscript.” A half hour later, when I returned to see how she was doing, she was crying. I said, “My goodness, is it that bad?” “No,” she answered. “It is that good!” “Have you made any changes?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “It is you speaking, and I don’t want to erase or edit you out of the record.”

    Later, we gave bound copies of my history to our children. Both of us knew that the thing would probably be placed on a shelf and read only sometime. A few weeks ago, however, one of our daughters said to me: “Dad, I love you so very much.” I wondered what was wrong and I asked: “What brought this on?” She explained, “It was your oral history; I have been reading about your life.” She added: “I did not realize that you had done. … I didn’t know that you had experiences such as. …”

    Do we not read that records kept by the ancients enlarged the memory of the people? Of course, it is true. Records do preserve language, safeguard truth, and inspire future readers, if they are kept properly.

    What a pity it would be if your children and grandchildren were denied that part of you that really should be recorded. Make certain that you are transmitting to your posterity, along with other graces of life, your innermost thoughts, your poignant feelings, and your sincere testimonies. You owe the rising generation this blessing and more.”

    Hi Katie, I haven’t heard back yet. I’ll probably get an email in October, months after they’ve hired a ballerina who can play the trumpet while doing the splits and reciting Shakespeare all at the same time!

  7. Isn’t writing a weird kinda thing? Really, everyone is a writer, but some take it more seriously and study about how to get better. But the only people who can claim it as a title are those that are published, much in the same way that you don’t feel like a performing artist but you are still very much a growing, creative person.

    I’m still meandering my way through a writing life, not sure where it will go or how seriously I want to take it. It is a great thing that you can write about writing so confidently and have that great desire to share your love and talents in writing with others. When you do get a job in writing they will be lucky to have you, and hopefully it will be soon! (Same for you bonnieblythe!)

  8. I write to clarify my life to myself, to wash away the mud and see the living bones, muscles and skin of my days and thoughts and experiences.

    I write so my sons can one day read about what they lived through but were too young to understand.

    I write to let my crazies out and because it’s fun!

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