Ain’t It Fun?

An unwieldy secret of mine is that I don’t like writing. 

I never set out to be a writer and, certainly, no one set out to make me one. In middle school, I was placed in the “regular” English section. As a high schooler, I was cut from A.P. Literature, won no school awards, was told I wasn’t good enough time and time again. By all institutional measures, it was clear that I was not considered an ingénue — no young Pablo Neruda or Sylvia Plath. If I could learn to write a five-paragraph essay and master the comma, that’d be enough.

And so, for years I bore the tedium of learning an academic skill, the way many force their way through maths or chemistry. Writing was never presented to me as an outlet for creativity — it was a unit of expression.

But then, a death. Illness. Financial burden. It all happened so suddenly and I found myself overwhelmed by an inexplicable grief. The experiences were so new that I didn’t know how to conceive of them.

As many will agree, it’s difficult to cope when you fail to pinpoint what you must cope with. It was at this juncture in life that I first came in contact with the work of Joan Didion, namely her essay on “On Self-Respect.” Until then, I’d never witnessed someone articulate thought with such precision and took deep comfort in the knowledge that it was possible to control one’s narrative or, at the very least, understand it with so much clarity. 

Didion’s “cool girl” image aside, there was so much to admire. Her technical competence in the form of taut prose — each sentence metered with an accuracy usually reserved for anesthesiologists or vascular surgeons. No wonder Nathan Heller in a Vogue editorial heralded her work as “Mozartian.”

In “Goodbye to All That,” Didion delineated through the vague fog which often obscures everyday discomfort. Later, Haruki Murakami in his “Norwegian Woods” would follow suit.

                                                                    * * * * * * 

There’s something intoxicating about writing. To name Rumpelstiltskin is to deprive him of power. Indeed, it’s the unknown which is most frightening. Quickly, I realized the potent relief which could come from naming fear or pain — enough to induce a spiritual high. And so I wrote too. 

I want to tell you that this is where it ends, but we never talk about the conditions it takes to produce a Didion. For certain individuals, writing is less hobby, more coping mechanism. And we’re not alone. At T.C. Tolbert’s reading, Tolbert talked about how writing comes as impulse; it’s not so much an activity done for fun so much as it’s an, albeit difficult, form of self-care — necessary work. This is one of the reasons why I struggle so enormously in workshop settings: I can’t write to write — it happens as compulsion.

In one course, I was asked to write an essay and I did. The response was positive, but the process which served as precursor was one which demanded the self-infliction of trauma. Post-workshop I wouldn’t touch the piece again the following six going on seven months. When we talk about writing, we editorialize. We focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, larger than life, grand, romantic figures every writer is taught to aspire to. Or it’s James Joyce and David Foster Wallace in their most tortured presentations. But, for some, writing is none of those things. Not love or lust — that most glamorous iteration of the craft. 

It’s a difficult burden to bear. Often, I feel immense guilt. I can’t shake the feeling that, in many senses, I’m the biggest imposter of them all. I’m by no means bad at writing despite what I’d been told in my earlier years. Even worse, I’ve received some attention for my work. How dare I then dislike writing? There are people who choose to do it, enjoy it, and work just as hard as I do at it. Why am I taking space from them? Could this have been different had I come to writing not because of trauma, but because a love of it that my education had fostered? 

Honestly, I’m uncertain. Sometimes, I want to give it all back — what few awards I have I’m not sure I deserve. Of course, I worked hard for them, but the newfound accolades don’t change the fact that I can’t write when asked to — it just happens. I don’t have the kind of control over my work, my productivity that I wish I had. 

I know this will come as a surprise to many. If not for love, why would anyone wake up at 4 A.M. to do anything of their own volition? Who dedicates hours to obsessive revision — weighs the difference between “a” and “the?” 

Well, me.

But is it fun? 

No, not at all. 




Poetic Source with Richard Simmons: Podcasts as Poetic Source

Lately I’ve been trying to control my anxiety with podcasts and it’s been very helpful. It’s like this friend buzzing in your ear but you control the buzz, whenever you need it, you can turn it back on. Apart from them helping me feel less lonely at times, I started thinking about how podcasts are also really helpful poetic sources. The podcast I’ve been addicted to has been Missing Richard Simmons because it is this careful excavation of a character and who he has been to his close friends and people who don’t even know him. To give you context without spoilers, I will say the podcast is about Richard Simmon’s decision to withdraw from society as a weight loss icon. It’s interesting because the podcast has really moved me to check in on my own emotional health and put myself first in a complicated time in my life.

Looking at the above pictures, I don’t know how anyone couldn’t automatically love Richard (or at least intrigued at his life story), a boisterous and colorful personality which has been known for being an extremely complicated and empathetic person. I love it. I can’t express to you guys how much I love him. But this is why he’s a good source for me. I’ve been listening to interview clips with him and people he knows, intently learning about a character sketch that has been put together through multimedia, letters, videos, personal accounts, hearsay, his own words and many more. This is wonderful because there are all these different kinds of rhetoric and opinions and it’s almost overwhelming what kinds of poems I could write about Richard. I could write a found poem from all the interviews with people he’s helped aiming it to help a reader understand how he most likely over exerted himself, or I could write a personal poem about the impact his story has had on me or many other kinds of poems. It’s endless. So here I am recommending that you go and find a podcast you love or share your favorites  with us! It’s “share a podcast month” anyway. Podcasts are wonderful because they usually have an aesthetic which can be parallel to yours or something new, they have a defined voice with very open opinions and intent, they have a focused subject matter oftentimes opening you up to things you thought you would have never cared about (I never thought I would be thinking endlessly about Richard Simmons, but here I am writing a letter to him and writing this blog post), and podcasts aren’t hard to access, you don’t even have to read them. I think they are also incredible for stimulating an obsession when we feel like we have over exerted our ability to obsess over something enough to write about it. Feel free to talk about your fave podcasts in the comments and how they help you write! <3

At the very least, know that wherever Richard is, he most likely believes in you and your ability to succeed. <3