Earlier this year for my nonfiction class, I had to go somewhere that made me uncomfortable in some way. Being the wise-ass that I am, I went to a local gym. I’m not sure if I captured what I meant to, but this is the essay it became. You can read it over on NBN.
Continuing to mine my homework for blog-fodder.
Once it was because of the homoerotic wrestling statue we found in my great aunt’s house after 3 rounds of post-mortem garage sales. Other times, it’s been the awkward interaction I stumbled into with the homeless lady in Peet’s Coffee or the cat that wandered into the donut shop and sprawled across two chairs for an hour while patrons took cell phone pictures. It’s the possibly illiterate driller I went on a blind date with once in Baton Rouge, the pet cocktail party an internship sent me to, the five minutes I spent in Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum.
I write because more often than not, the world I see around me seems too weird not to document, too rich with moments that seem too absurd to go unshared. And in those moments it seems impossible that I not write.
I spent a full half hour of down-to-the-wire, prime writing time standing in my apartment’s small bathroom with my three roommates, staring at our toilet. The water wouldn’t stop and the handle was somehow broken. We stared at it, taking turns flicking and probing the small pipe spouting water and the plastic rod we knew was vital to proper function as if we only moved it to the right place, we would understand how it was supposed to be used. We Googled the proper function of Kohler toilets and frantically gchatted our only male roommate, who had his own toilet and couldn’t be bothered to emerge from his basement lair to solve someone else’s problems. We couldn’t look into the toilet bowl because, well, there was poop in there and girls aren’t allowed to poop, much less see each other’s poop. As I grumbled under my breath about my lack of productivity, everyone else’s general un-handiness and our curse of a house, I also knew I had to write it down. Four girls and a MacBook Pro in a bathroom smaller than my bed, playing at being plumbing savvy.
I’ve always written, I suppose — partially because when you’re a kid that reads people like to tell you you’ll be a writer — but it never really seemed like a sustainable enterprise. For a while, I was convinced I was too lazy to bother writing anything at all. As a kid, more interested in my own mind than what was going on around me, I could craft elaborate plots and fantasies, but I rarely had the follow-through to do so. A children’s book author came to visit my elementary school once when I was in 5th grade, and the only part of her presentation that stuck with me was that someone braver than me asked her when she decided she wanted to be a writer. She replied that she never really decided; writing was just something she never stopped doing, since childhood.
My 11-year-old self took this to heart in the worst of ways. I wanted to dabble in writing myself, and had an occasional swirl of ideas for novels that I plunked out in secret on an old computer at home. But those times were few and far between, and having somehow fixated on the idea that if it wasn’t a novel, it wasn’t worth it, I finished nothing. I couldn’t imagine being motivated to write every day, every week. What about homework? TV? Too much work. I went home having chalked up my literary ambitions as misguided, my soul as fundamentally unwriterly.
But as it turned out, it happened just like she said it would. I wrote the occasional short story or awful, angsty poem, started and abandoned journal after journal. I signed up for a blog, took some creative writing classes. And though I can go a month or two without putting into motion a single creative idea, on certain days, I have to pause my writing about how I stopped writing for a moment to check on my toilet, in order to write about something entirely different, an essay from 10th grade I found buried in the internet. Even when everything is mundane, normal, there are things I find interesting enough to talk about that sound trivial in conversation, but look better on paper. The way that lemon leaves smell or the clunking sound that old fashioned roller skates make against a wood floor or the varying textures on my unprofessionally painted walls.
I write because I’m secretly an oversharer, though I’m often too shy to even ask a stranger for directions, and the idea of having certain thoughts or quips die with me or slip from my brain unappreciated makes me itch. I have a bad memory and a compulsion to capture minute details that necessitates I write them down, lest – God forbid – I forget how to accurately describe the full-size ceramic penis salt and pepper shakers I found in my kitchen when I moved in. As a person who grew up reading and not talking, my thoughts come out best as words on a page, not sounds and syllables arranged mid-air. I like to go back, edit, re-edit, tweak, delete. As I write I can concentrate on each small moment as it occurs – the awkwardness of two strangers in an elevator, the joy of popping bubble wrap, the tension in a conversation when one person has mustard on their face but won’t stop talking long enough to be told – knowing the moments before it have been cemented into text and won’t be lost to the unavoidable re-appropriation of brain memory space.