I read Patti Smith’s tome on writing a while back. Devotion is a lovely short book, on beautiful paper, in gorgeous typeface and bound in a way that makes you want to hold it. She was writing about something precious to her, and that precious something deserved a satisfyingly thoughtful and pretty vehicle. Patti on the creative process. Of course ask Patti to write a book on why she writes and what you get is a book on how she writes. She is Patti after all, she does things her way. She answers the question she was posed by the end of Devotion. I don’t intend to write a review of the book, just to tell you if you are the kind of soul that likes to read the whys and hows and take a trip around the houses, instead of as the crow flies, to your final destination, it is worth seeking out the book for the journey, not the answers.
Which brings me to today. I’m still smarting after being told that I write too much on my own blog, and considered “insane” for doing so. Their layman’s diagnosis was manic depressive. I would have dropped it, but had to delete comment after nasty comment full of bile and some weirdly poisonous anti-American hatred leveled at yours truly. What we can gather, my friends, is that the Russians don’t like us, and I am possibly to blame for everything. That is ok, once you have been asked to apologize for Hiroshima, that kind of shit is much of a muchness after a while! Oh well! But it got me thinking, why do I write?
I know this has been done to death, and Patti Smith’s Devotion felt like the final word to me, but it was Patti’s final word, not my own, and damnit I want my own words! I write because I enjoy it. I write because it feels like a craft I can hone. I write because I have vague ideas of making a living out of doing so. I write because I have something to say. I was not a particularly mouthy kid. I was crushed, quiet and tiny. Always the smallest in the class, somewhat studious, and always uncomfortable within myself. I had an abusive homelife, and a nice English teacher. I wrote things, and I read. I wrote letters, I wrote reviews, I wrote essays. I couldn’t throw a netball, fuck hockey, but I could write. I was no good with numbers, numbers scared the shit out of me, but words were easy, words held comfort. Words I could do. I couldn’t tell people how bad things were for me at home, so I wrote stories of sad girls who ran away from home.
I am slightly ashamed to say I have only just discovered the talented Yael Naim, an Israeli singer/songwriter. I seem to have missed out on the apple computer hype that happened years back when they used her song, New Soul, for an advert. She crept into my recommendations on youtube, with a song called Far Far.
Yael voiced how I felt as that girl, mocked for where I had come from, what I was, who I was. Mocked for my nose. Mocked for my studiousness. An adoptive family that had no interest in me once they had a biological child. I ran into Yael’s aquarelle rivers, away from the mess that was being made of me: and I wrote. I wrote because it was my escape. I wrote to try and make sense of it all. I used to lay in bed and pray “G-d! Make me clever! G-d! Make me creative! G-d notice me!” An unwise prayer, I think. I should have prayed for Him to ignore me. To make me small. To make my life boring and quiet. Yael sings of the “happy end, cause you don’t understand, everything you have done, why’s everything so wrong?” To write is to question. To write is to exorcise some knobbly demon that buries itself in your soul with each step you take into other mistakes.
To write is to err, to hit that “one false note” that TS Elliot identifies in Portrait of a Lady. With each draft we move closer to the divine, closer to perfection, chasing but never achieving, dreaming but never materializing, hiding but always seen.
Writing is a fool’s errand. Yet yet keep chasing it, that perfect line, the gold at the end of a rainbow, and us the seeker running after it.
As an adult an uncle visits me and the children. I meet him. He is wearing a huge beard, he has put on some weight and carries himself differently. He is not writing but reading, I conclude. He refuses to explain but takes me to visit an elderly woman. He knocks on the door, and she opens it and staggers backwards slightly, then with two rough bony hands, she puts her bone around my flesh and grips my face crying. I have no idea what is going on. This is not for me, I conclude. She grips my face and then my hands, she twirls me around and marvels. I’m flattered but confused. She kisses my eyes, recovers herself, and pulls me in. My uncle has tears in his eyes. She talks to me in a language I do not speak. She forces thick tea sweetened with strawberry jam onto me. It is good, I nod my head. She feed me things made out of honey and milk and fine pastry. She grabs the baby’s hand, he is sleeping and I am mother not child once again. Producing a thin red string, she ties it around his wrist and clucks quietly. Finally my uncle shushes me. “She says he is beautiful and the devil will look at him.” My daughter scowls. She talks at me. My uncle refuses to translate. I will not be allowed in on the secret. She needs to say it, I need not hear it. I cannot be angry. This is my gift to her. Me. I am flat as a mirror. Quiet as a mouse. Finally she rises, and goes to the mantlepiece. She hands me an envelope with a faint blue stamp on it and shoves it towards me, refusing to take my protestations. We leave. She waves goodbye to me. We will never see each other again.
I write to chronicle. I write because the woman with no name deserves my words. I write because I deserve to have some words after so many years of silence. I cannot have my face, my name, my identity, but I have this. It is mine. I guard it closely.
I feel I should say I write because we die, but that is lazy of me. I am not after immortality. I chase peace. Acceptance. Freedom. Truth. I write because it is my armor, I write because it is my shield. I write because there are words in my head that need to make it to hand and paper.
I performed a small experiment yesterday. I had the title: Beat Till Tender(loin), I had a vague idea of writing some kinda beat poetic prose thing, but everything I wrote felt forced. It was all Elliot’s False Notes. So I went out. I went out and I enjoyed the day. I went out with a pen and paper. I have a purple pen, it writes smoothly, it pleases me. I have little notebooks, tiny and lined with penguins on the front. I swallowed my self consciousness, slipped the notebook into my back pocket, and wrote notes. They are nothing. White dog. Man with two beers. Just hints, just reminders, the occasional phrase. I came back and propped my notes against the screen, and wrote what I wanted to write, how I wanted to write it. It worked. It was my artists sketchpad. It was my tape recorder. It was very embarrassing, stoating around town with a penguin notebook and a purple pen, like I was someone important, with Important Things to say.
That is my lack of self worth. I never believe I have anything important to say, nor do I believe I say it well. I always feel apologetic. I’m working on it. I guess I’ll just have to write it out.