I do it for selfish reasons—one of those reasons is curiosity. Another is personal need—I need other people’s words in my life.
Reading and writing are doorways into worlds at once more honest and more poetic than moments hardened to habit by unlit fires. Words are abundant yet retain their value; cyphers and letters left lying about transmogrify into rabbit holes worth falling into, not the least because sometimes it’s the hardest falls that save your life.
Sometimes I’m uncertain if I’ve fallen or ducked excruciatingly hard.
I ducked hard last week and a lifetime’s worth of implications have been percolating in my overworked mind ever since. My day was unzipped by an encounter that brought to the surface a behaviour that both haunts me and saved my sanity.
A brief conversation spilled a memory back into my lap: I was maybe eight years old, seated in a cold plastic chair hating a guidance councillor to death because she reeked of adult condescension tinged with a saccharine mellifluousness that was nauseating in pitch and intensity.
I was the damaged goods she was assigned to salvage in the name of earning her daily bread, and she must have been fucking famished.
I was angry and ashamed. I was also a bit of an asshole as a child, so all in all it was a dubious situation. My body tensed and spazzed like someone going mano y mano with the biggest sneeze in the world. I wanted the struggle to end, yet wouldn’t commit to any action that would end it.
I had to choose between emotional honesty and the temptation to turn my back on disclosure altogether, regardless of who sat before me.
I didn’t deal in middle grounds back then.
That sneeze had been building for years.
I let it wash over me unchallenged. I thought to deal with the aftermath later. And with that lack of decision a division was made; I drew anchor and disappeared into written words for a little over a decade, only to resurface somewhere in my twenties.
My feelings of hurt, loneliness, and anger were real but they were also more than I felt I could reasonably embrace. So I didn’t—I embraced other people’s hurt, loneliness, and anger. I also embraced their whimsy, wisdom, joy, and ambition.
My feelings surfaced freely only when I was reading and later when I was writing. Words made contact with my emotional surface with a directness and intensity that people could not.
I watched, I read, I related, I recorded. I found my doorway.
I also found the most direct route beneath the surface of our collective skin. Without the words of others I would have died or someone else may have. There were times when putting ink to paper or absorbing other people’s applications of ink to paper was my only salvation.
“I can’t write. I’d love to, but I can’t.”
I’ve sussed that what people are conveying is “I’m no fucking Hemingway.”
Well really—who the fuck is? Steinbeck was no Hemingway either—he was Steinbeck, and all the better for us that he was.
We come to the page in hope, frustration, pain, need, and optimism— whatever—just pick your poison and be honest with it.
Words matter, and the world people are afraid to illustrate and share may be a lifeline to someone who will remain forever unknown.
You don’t get an update when this happens.
Inanimate, at-a-distance sharing serves as both balm and stronghold. We all have moments of weakness, need, and hurt—we just don’t all know how to overcome it without study.
Other people’s words taught me how to live when the adults around me could not.
And perhaps that tug to put it on paper and evaluate what happens when your insides land on the outside is an answer to a call you did not consciously hear. We are all connected—visibly, invisibly, it matters not.
Faith has become a dirty word but cleanliness is overrated, so fuck it.
Those years of disconnect are behind me now but the disconnect itself is not yet defeated. I still reach for old favourites in time of need because I know they will be there, solid, steady, unchanged until I myself have changed.
I’m in many an author’s debt but I think it’s a debt that can be forgiven with time.
Or perhaps there is nothing to forgive after all.
There is an everlasting complexity within paragraphs and pages, within the turns of a tale or exposé. The pages may grow stained or worn but their power remains indelible.
Tattoo someone else’s words on your heart and you’re in solid company forever.
Whatever your intentions, once your words are loosed on the world the world will do what they wish with them. Open your palm and let your words roll ever onward regardless—their trajectory and impact cannot be controlled.
And sometimes that is a beautiful thing.