On Writing: Beginnings, coping & expression

I can trace a handful of defining moments back to my days in high school. Maybe it shouldn’t come as surprising, being that mixing pot of awkwardness, doubt, and a pinch of disorientation to taste. Writing, for fun, was one of them.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” 

― Neil Gaiman

It was tenth grade English Lit, we were going through the required poems for the Caribbean Secondary School Exams and this one was God’s Grace by Gods know who for I sure as heck can’t remember now. The speaker of the poem sounded to be a privileged man who is reflecting fondly on one of his workers whose faith in God was unwavering to his last breath as sickness took him … it felt like he (the man) was shaking his head at the irony conveyed in the poem.

The subject was obviously of African descent because I clearly remember him being described as “black”. That description didn’t elicit so much as a blink from me, why should it? It was just an adjective. The same couldn’t be said of my friend Beatrice.

This was some eight or nine years ago but I clearly remember her remarking with annoyance, “Why did they have to call him black?”

I realized then that what seemed to be a simple enough piece of poetry had more significance to her as an Afro-Guyanese than to me, a person of Indian ancestry. I mulled it over, it hadn’t been said in a disrespectful manner at all, however, in retrospect I think we were all more sensitive at that stage coupled with the facts that our country had a violent past with racial divides and the colonial legacy of slavery and indentureship.

Photo via Godzilla-Reads. I’m almost finished reading Wild Embers, wouldn’t rave about it but definitely worth a read.

My interest in poetry was piqued by the devastating reality of these often vague, stacked lines of words. They made you feel. It was a free for all: history, love, friendship, betrayal … all at its disposal. Each poem is a vulnerability exposed to lure you in so that if you only allowed it to, it could rub you equally raw or instigate a reflected sense of melancholy, rage or what have you. Conversely, it could piss you off. Afterall, we’re not obligated to like what someone else writes. 

Of course, I didn’t know all this then in such fine detail as I do now. The feeling was as abstract as the subject but I glimpsed for the first time the sly power that bound the letters. I wanted in on that, that secret writer/poets’ club. It only required that I have a blank page and a pen at my disposal, and me with my untapped brain in a quiet enough room.

And today? As a writer, there are days when I can be drunk on that same power of creation, of frank articulation that can also be subtle should I want it so. But with it I, like all who choose to write and share, we inherit that undeniable vulnerability. Necks bared to the world, not sure who’d slit it as much as admire it. I’m still making peace with that.

I didn’t have to settle for half-formed thoughts, I could write it out and what I found was humbling. There is so much more inside myself that I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been for writing.

The process itself taught me, it forces me to look outward with a new set of lens, I have to actively observe people, objects, animals, places and the weather. Techniques I’ve learned from reading, I had to apply it here. For characters, I had to question motives and formulate answers drawing on my expanding knowledge of human nature. I had to learn shades of colours, descriptors for textures and the nuances for emotions. I have to draw on real-life to create my own little multiverses. I began to see people differently, and the landscape with a discerning eye.

Journaling has become almost synonymous with healing, and it also provides a window to the past, as it stands I can flip back and meet myself two years ago in a filled up diary, visit places I’ve been, down to my regular haunts and cozy nooks.

I’ve struggled a lot inside my head, as I’d mentioned briefly in past posts, and chronicling individual days (the good and bad and the ugly) has helped me immeasurably. And I can tell you it’s surreal in a way, yet solid proof that I not only survived my worst but that I lived at all and it’s right there in my personal font. Who knows what will happen to the diaries after I’m ashes. If anything, I’ll be survived by my words and I can only hope they’ll find themselves in the hands of someone who would need them.

This gorgeous stack belongs to Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist.

I have a small tower of composition notebooks crammed with poetry, characters and the short stories they’d feature in. Some I’ve published on various websites and a good chunk still in the drafts but they’re there, the people and worlds that I’ve created. It’s fantastic and terrifying. I love it.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” he says. Read widely, and constantly work to refine and redefine your own work as you do so.

― Stephen King

Reading is inextricably connected to writing, and I’ve been reading in my capacity as a bibliophile for a decade now and it goes without saying that I would’ve been a different person today I hadn’t embraced those two. I know I’m richer for them.

The term “writer” isn’t reserved for the published folks. Are you a writer? How has it impacted you? What do you find most difficult? What do you like best about it? Are you trying to get published? Or are you already? Talk to me down below.


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