Why Do I Write?

You might think I’ve already answered this question, but let me consider it in a bit more detail now.

I think I stated fairly straightforwardly in the last post and by implication many times before: I have a pretty good idea what the cause of our modern malaise is and I think I understand how we might begin to get out of it. I don’t know what else to say to make that any clearer, but it still doesn’t answer the underlying question of why I write, in the sense of why me? What gave me this sense that my purpose was to tackle this thing?

I’d like to start with this simple observation (and I don’t mean to be flippant): who can say? It would be like asking what made Muhammad Ali become the man he did, for example, or why Hillary Clinton jumped into the vexatious arena of politics instead of retiring comfortably as a well-to-do grande dame? Not that I’m comparing myself to either, of course, but just to state the obvious: we may never know what pushes people to do whatever good they feel they must try to do. I don’t like to look at people for “psychological” factors such as overcompensation, libido, inferiority complex, simple neurosis or whatever else because that seems to demean someone’s contribution as being the result of some ignoble aspect of their character instead of true inspiration. Why was Gandhi Gandhi? Because he was inspired! Do you doubt it?

Please don’t misunderstand and think that I’m placing myself in the company of people far more successful than I am. I’m not looking at this in terms of ability or success but rather the underlying reason that motivated it. This I think I can do without being thought of as self-aggrandizing, but only if you, the reader, accept that premise.

That said, can I uncover any clues as to why I was “inspired” to follow the course I have? That seems a better approach than to ask myself, “Don’t you think you might be just a little crazy, Katry?” Thankfully, I’ve never thought that. To my way of thinking, it’s far more productive to look at the positive achievements of humankind as being the result of something more than mental aberration or even mental illness. A case could be made that Genghis Khan was mentally off, or Michelangelo, George III, Lincoln, Nixon, or even Ali. Certainly Van Gogh was unbalanced, and Edgar Allan Poe, too—or so we might say. But for what purpose? To tarnish their achievements? We could just as easily say that anyone who does something out of the ordinary to achieve something “great” is necessarily a bit crazy.  But where’s the profit in that? Better to call it inspiration—and in exceptional cases even “divine” inspiration—and leave it at that. This is not to look through rose-colored glasses as much as accept the fact that while we might think we understand basic human psychology, we surely don’t comprehend inspiration. Thus those who speak about the positive causes of motivation may not necessarily be doing so out of naiveté, and those who criticize this approach may well be doing so out of lack of knowledge.

           Okay, so those are my terms of reference. Let’s get back to the original point—why do I write? Or as I restated it, why do I write?

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a born writer in the same way that someone is a born athlete (and so on) because it’s certainly true, even though I didn’t start “writing” until I was a senior in high school. So what’s the quality of a writer that makes him a writer even as he’s running around the neighborhood in short pants with little on his mind but play? In a word: temperament. I was born looking at the world and feeling it in a certain way, and in that respect I really haven’t changed since then. I had a point of view, it was people-centered, and I felt others’ pain and joy as my own. And throughout I had a sense that there was a better way to organize the conduct of life, if I can put it like that—a more fulfilling way—and I was certain as I grew older that I wanted to do something about that. I didn’t know what, though. When I wrote my first play, a door opened and I just knew that it was the one to step through. No thought—just pure instinct.

Of course, temperament is only half of writing. The other half is actually being able to write. I seemed to have been born with that, too. Even that first little play I wrote at seventeen seemed to flow naturally from my pen. Words came easily to me, like numbers might to a mathematician or strides to a sprinter. So the challenge throughout my writing life was never how to develop the feelings of a writer or learn how to use words effectively, but to refine the attributes I was already given naturally.

It wasn’t easy, believe me—it was an eternal struggle. But in that struggle, I feel I’ve succeeded, though one might look at my record of publication and think otherwise. Maybe I could do better, “had I but world enough and time,” but on balance I consider myself to have been successful. The writing consistently and sometimes even remarkably says what I know needs to be said, and that’s an achievement of which I’m proud. That I’ve failed to convince others of the value of my work isn’t a failure (it seems to me) as much as an irony. “Rejected by the very people he tried to help,” one might say. And in that, I’m in some very good company. But be that as it may, we all have to set our own standard of success—I hope you can at least agree with me on that—and in the main I have lived up to mine.

One more point: I haven’t given up. The writing of this blog is, I think, partial evidence of that. I’m still trying to at least get a record of the work “out there,” if not for you then for your children, or your children’s children. When I’m convinced that that’s accomplished, I’ll rest my case. I’ll be ready to go into that good night, and with a soft pillow, too. See, I told you before that I’m lucky. Not satisfied, by any means—human beings rarely are—but in some small part of me, content.

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