One of the reasons writing is essential to me is its power to keep me connected to what I’m actually thinking and feeling. We live in a culture that places high value on money, primacy on its subjects as consumers and workers, whether we be consumers of entertainment, self-employed workers, what have you. Think about the conversations you have with other people, say, someone you’ve just met at a party. One of the first questions you might ask each other to establish your identity is: “What do you do?” One of the first topics you two might alight on that helps you to genuinely connect is: “What movies have you seen recently?” You get a feel for someone based on how they generate wealth, and based on how they spend that wealth. This is one of the reasons small talk is so unbearable for some introverts; we don’t have the patience and energy to jump through the first sets of hoops to get to the juicy stuff, what people genuinely think and feel (yet the smartest part of me knows that, if I care, I have the power to guide conversations such as these, through both my questions and answers, instead of passively accepting the norm).
Our is not a culture that tells or teaches us how to connect with ourselves. I was lucky to discover writing as a means of expression. I was a girl with emotions so powerful, I often felt helpless under their sway. Writing began in earnest for me when I hit puberty, and had to sort through the insanity of becoming conscious of my womanhood, my blackness, and my responsibility for my own life. Some young adults find solace in religion, therapy, close relationships with friends or family, but it was around this time that I realized I wasn’t a Christian, the therapists my parents kindly arranged for me were largely condescending, my friends associated pretty starkly along black/white color lines come junior high, and my family argued constantly in those days. I had to figure out how to save myself, and I couldn’t do that until I began to understand who I was. [This period in my life comprises most of the subject matter of my forthcoming book, All Blue So Late, available for pre-order now! 🙂 ]
Of course, my identity continues to develop and change. If it didn’t, I might have been able to write for a few years then stop, picking the habit up again during times of crisis, perhaps, but remaining largely concerned with other pursuits. Instead, I have to keep checking in with myself to uncover the truth of who I am. When writers say they do their best work when they surprise themselves, they mean what I mean: we have to write to uncover our own stories.
To figure out who we are, and to be brave enough to admit it: that’s the dream.