I write. Never knowing what kind of noise my writing makes in the world. Does it even matter?
Every weekday, like clockwork, I drop my kids off at school and return home to the solitude of an empty house (a writer’s retreat of sorts) ready to battle with the embryonic ideas and half-baked projects lying around in my head disheveled and tired from the effort to reveal themselves to the world in 500-words-a-day increments. The kitchen is the best room to let loose—dripping faucet, the telltale smell of home, the soft gurgle of the espresso machine, the chill of late fall seeping from the floor, and the lasagna baking in the oven. Right in the middle, there’s the big round table made of sturdy wood, a family heirloom and a work of art in its own right, able to carry on its back multitudes: wine glasses and teacups, laptop and food, toys and loose pages of notes, private sorrows and heaps of steaming dumplings, tiresome advice and culinary transgressions. Mine is a tangible life crowded by boisterous family and sumptuous possessions if nothing else.
I am lucky to be among those who get to cut and trim life’s messy bits with relative ease until what remains is transformed into something bright and shiny and beautiful in an uncomplicated way. Yet, as a mother I walk a tightrope between being seen and judged on my parenting decisions to the detriment of all my other choices and left purposefully unseen and deemed unimportant except as a means to an end for my children’s survival and well-being. The older I get, the more I worry about how quickly the cornerstones of my life are eroding with the passing of time. Oh, how fast time goes. I see it going by. I feel it. Sure, it’s a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true. It is this sense of urgency that pushes me to question my motives for going deep within myself to hunt down fleeting, hard-to-describe sensations that fight for space with the crowdedness of my family life. I write to grapple with private worries and personal experiences that can only be decoded by freely sharing them on the page. I write to connect the ideas that flash into my mind with the words that emerge already crippled on the page. I mostly write to feel whole. What other choice do I have but this?
My daughter also writes. She charges ahead with a single-mindedness I envy, not that her writing schedule has ever needed to recoup from the school nurse interrupting with a poorly timed emergency call about a minor scrape, her family’s obliviousness to the invisible hardships of creative work, or a massive pile of laundry waiting to be sorted. She is adamant about the necessity of accompanying her words with corresponding drawings, just in case the reader gets confused. As far as I understand, clarity is big among seven-year-old writers. One can be granted some level of flexibility when it comes to choosing a theme, maybe even be allowed to go as far as to forfeit choosing a subject matter altogether, but any writer worth her salt would never fail to be clear about her message: LOL dolls are amazing, climate change is bad, moms are the best. Also, here’s a drawing of my favorite doll, a violent sea storm, my mom’s loopy face.
My son, on the other hand, has no time to write. In the hectic world of third graders, a killer reenactment of a special episode from everyone’s favorite YouTuber is valued much more highly than the solitary joys of writing. When forced to do so, he opts for linear thinking and short paragraphs, which, come to think about it, are plenty sufficient to describe whatever battle galore is the flavor of the month among nine-year-olds asked to exercise their writing muscles on command.
Sometimes we write together. The kitchen table is big enough to comfortably accommodate my laptop and various notebooks and their huge stack of A4 paper, my cup of coffee and their water glasses, my scrambled thoughts and their innocent enthusiasm. I try my best to imbue in them the idea that writing is an opportunity to sing for the world, whatever that may mean to my boy and girl. I wish on them the good fortune to, one day, understand that writing can somehow protect them, for the creative impulse is a safe refuge from life’s misery. For the time being, I tell them that to write is to be able to tell a story however they choose. They perk up at the opportunity to be in charge, and we get to work adding our team contribution to the already super dense mass of words orbiting around us in real life and virtual reality.
Often shattered by loose conversation threads in their turn disrupted by too many spilling accidents, our writing seeks to find common ground between my daughter’s idolization of the written word, my son’s complete refusal to engage with it, and my own enchantment with language. Truth be told, most of our time is spent in spirited chats about “what to write about,” searching for a topic that will make all three of us feel reflected accurately on the page and in each other’s eyes. No wonder we turn into fairy-tale creatures: she the enchanted dreamer, the one whose destiny is threaded with magical creative dust, he the literal thinker given to emphatic pronunciations, I the seeker, bent down under the weight of a welcomed curse to write obsessively in order to nourish my soul.
Typically, we disagree on what’s good writing. “How long should my paragraph be?” asks my son. “Is this good enough? How many big words do I need to use?” My daughter is worried about nuance. “Mom,” she never tires of asking, “Should I write something happy or sad? Should it rhyme?”
I tell my children that some writing has darkness, some light, some is short, some is really long. It would be a mistake to think one kind is better than the other or that there’s a right way to write. I tell them that writing is difficult and complex but it is worthwhile since it has the potential to change our lives by giving us a new and richer way of looking at the world. I ask them to view writing as a precious opportunity to look into our interior world as much as force us to become aware of how we perceive and interact with others. I tell them it shows us how often we are mistaken in our own assumptions, including what writing is all about.
Dripping in motherhood and creative juices, I see things through a sort of internal aesthetic and that is sufficient to give me joy. “While writing is a free-floating relationship to language,” I tell my children, “a story, birthed through the flames of spur-of-the-moment inspiration, must also resemble a canvas encrusted in thick layers of color that provoke a genuine emotional rising. It is this intimate feeling that binds us to one another and in those bonds is the key to our ability to voice our intentions, thoughts and ideals in order to be heard by each other, our readers and the world.”
That being said, when I write I am many things at once even though my writing oftentimes tiptoes around uncomfortable recollections. I am the hearts I touch, the little cheeks I caress, the work I do. I am someone’s mother and someone’s child. I am ready to probe into what the future holds instead of becoming stuck in the past. I want to know what stones I still have to turn to cut a new path into my journey as a writer. So far, the truckload of books I have leafed through and covered in fingerprints from cover to cover throughout my long life as a reader has little insight to offer. On the other hand, the very simple act of writing alongside my children has taught me an invaluable lesson on how to use writing to explore only those areas of my life that are so mysterious and personal, so fresh and unbound by social mores as to become universal while allowing me to live out multiple versions of myself.
To return the favor, I share with my children the pillars of writing life. Number one, tending to your voice is imperative because writing, just like life, relies on constant harmonizing. Number two, do not doubt your intentions as a writer and do not feel bad about the pages you end up discarding in the process of thinking things through or dealing with occasional bouts of self-doubt. Number three, do not feel bad about the things you end up writing either. If nothing else, they represent an honest effort to communicate something to someone other than yourself. So, yes, my darlings, write what you must, but try to see it clear, and don’t equate personal satisfaction with good writing. Chances are, some of it will be bad, some fine, some just a messy kind of writing, yet every word will feel like an excruciating act of exposure which, after all, is what permits us to feel fully alive.
Although there is no singular defining reason why one experiences writing as meaningful or fulfilling, it surely grants us the unique chance to pry ourselves open on the page, bleed profusely, and miraculously heal our wounds by introducing our readers to our innermost thoughts and emotions. We do not, indeed, know who’s going to engage with our writing and under what mindset, but it is fair to assume that by sowing the seeds of dialogue we get to experience the depth of the human condition, even as it remains shrouded in mystery. All the more satisfying if along the way we recognize our distinctive ability to be creative, one of a kind, utterly unique in our shared humanity.