When you meet a person for the first time, one of the natural questions that waft into that (mainly) insufferable talk has to be, “so what do you do?”
I find that question…I don’t know…slightly intrusive. As if suddenly, some judgmental maniac has a giant spotlight on my face. It is the predecessor of whether or not the recipient of your answer will want to interact further with you, or write you off as a non entity within their social calibre. It makes them grade you. Or so I think.
I never used to answer that question with the words I am a writer. Even though those who do know me swear that I seem to permeate writing from my pores and nuances. I was once told in passing over a glass of frosted, merciless wine that I am merely masquerading as a wallflower, hiding in the shadows, trying to dim my destined light.
I am often wary of this heightened adoration that people often perceive writers with; as if they are one rung higher up the ladder of mere mortals. As if, if you cut them, the blood will come out sighing rather than flowing. I fear the resentment that often comes with adoration. To quote someone whose name I don’t remember but whose words aptly explain this fear, “be careful of those who admire you deeply, think you are brilliant, but resent your light.”
My seemingly casual approach to writing has nothing to do with either disrespect for the craft, or haughtiness to the ability…more like a hushed awe. Like how I imagine a man who has everything money can buy would view the woman who holds not his heart, but his mind. The woman who invades his self imposed fortress not with her exterior perfection but with her unintentional seduction…scrapping always, against his better judgment… fanning and stroking fires no one can distinguish nor extinguish within his soul. I struggle, just like such a man would, with writing. It is my unwilling mistress. It often comes to me even when I reject it.
Once I sat with someone in a Java having a java, before I quit depending on caffeine to make sense of the morning. He intrigued me with his air of subtle arrogance. A man who wanted the world to know that he was at peace with the storms that plagued his dreams; the storms that had honed him into the creature sitting across me. Like a perfectly smooth rock perched on the edge of an ocean cliff. He said to me, in his quiet, sullen tone as he sipped his drink, that he thought it is too difficult to love a writer. I laughed with him. I have heard that before. That writers see too much. Hear too much. Writers hear the words beyond the syllables…the ones that nestle within the sighs, the raised eyebrows, the pursed lips and clenched fists. The words that trail down together with silent tears.
I suppose I could have rallied for fellow pen holders and debated that logic with him, but I didn’t. I smiled into my coffee instead.
When you introduce yourself to someone as a writer, and carefully watch, you will see the exact moment intrigue glosses over their eyes. You will know that they have immediately decided to hide their emotions from you, lest they become a subject for your next article or blog post. And should you interact with them long enough, you will see the disappointment seep into their eyes when it finally dawns on them that writers are just…people too.
In my literally travels, I once read this statement, “Writers are the wallflowers of the world.” What a brilliant way to put it. Wallflowers. A writer has to be one. Only a wallflower can silently sit back on the fringes of a bustling society and properly tell its stories. Only a wallflower can sneak up on you…and dazzle you with synonyms and similes that leap from a page and straight into your jugular. Words that will graze against your conscience…and linger there, taunting you. Words so profound in their playfulness that you find yourself going back to read them again, if only to replicate that little thump they give your weakened heart. Only a wallflower will be able to whisper that which you often think about, dream about…desire, but rarely indulge in.
I would then have to agree with my sullen friend. It must be quite difficult to love a writer, especially the gifted kind. Gifted artists, so I have heard, are broken in a way that fixes other people. Often times, I find that I write best when I am in various stages of “broken”. When I am churning with anger, wrought with lust, burdened by grief, slain by love, intoxicated by wine and delusional, fleeting excitement.
Writing for me is more an extension of the person that I am, rather than a way of life. I do not need a special zone to create stories. Instead, I need writing to get out of zones created by the ebb and flow that is life. Writing is one of my drugs so to speak. One of the quiet enveloping places that I retreat to when I need to purge pain that is too stubborn to be sobbed out of my system. Or the condensed space where I allow myself to experience unhinged joy when the universe hands me an unexpected gift. Therefore since I am merely a “user of words”, to call myself a writer, would be an imposition would it not?
My first fan and essentially my first reader was my mother. I astounded her with something wrote at the age of eight or nine. I saw a glimpse in her eyes, of that which I would be lying if I were to say I do not sometimes crave as well…I saw, creeping gently into her eyes, such love. I saw that surprise that often comes from people when they read something that stirs them somewhere. I saw it…and I immediately feared it.
I do not like to watch someone as they read something that I wrote. I stopped that. Because, while they read it, I read as well, and find grammatical atrocities that should have been jarring to my eye but were swallowed up in the frenzy that is telling the story. I find a thousand other ways I could have said it better. In the words I see too much of myself or someone else than I had intended. While they read, I fret over their comments. Then I fret over why they had no comment at all. I search their faces for validation or vindication. It is quite a tumultuous affair, watching for a reaction. Hoping for it. Praying against it.
I like that I can lose myself into a story…play goddess to characters that I have no control over in real life. Create magic within muck. I like to sit in places where no one knows me, proudly wearing my wallflower cape and imagining the stories behind those sombre expressions, impeccable track-and-sews. I like to craft thoughts based on the set of a waitresses’ mouth, or the deadpan eyes behind a businessman’s smile. I like that my ability to create scenarios often means that I imagine the worst even where there is nothing to imagine. Ordinarily an overactive imagination would make regular people crazy, but for me it balances me out. I like it when I sit in a local pub and pull out a book. The reactions of others. A book in a pub?
My walk with writing had been on a sort of soulful hiatus. For a very long time, all I knew was pain; therefore it was easy for me to find abstract absolution behind a blog and a pseudonym. I wanted to shape myself out from that place though…and tell a different kind of story. Yet I was unsure whether or not without pain I could create poetry. I was trying to figure out whether or not I could coax myself out of the syllable closet and bloom into something proficient enough…something sound enough so that one day, while I sit in a room full of people I do not know and they ask me what it is that I do, I will be able to say, with certainty, and a secret smile that knows the reaction after the words.. I am a writer.
And then a short while ago my four year old son brought me a newspaper that has my face on it, and he asked, “Mom, is this you?”
“Yes it is baby.”
“Why are you in the newspaper?”
And then it happened…
“I am a writer, that’s why.”