#72 - why I write
On clearing out the emotional clutter.
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THANK YOU, LOVE YOU.
Lately, I have been thinking about why I write. Sometimes this question is just a missile toward existential dread about if anything actually matters, but at this moment, it has actually been a useful prompt for recalibration.
The fascinating consequence of cultivating a practice of any kind is that eventually, it becomes an entity of its own. Your curiosity, care, love, dedication, desire, desperation, and patience fashion a kind of skin to house your creative work and your emotional material becomes its propriety operating system.
Soon, you are merely a steward, a parent, gently nudging it along, feeding its needs to rise and stretch and elongate in all directions until you are waving goodbye at the doorstep, shaken awake to remember and notice how much has changed, how you have changed.
My inner ecology has changed so much, that I’m not really sure what to do with it. On the surface, everything is the same: I am still a terrible sleeper, a coffee snob, and equally socially competent and socially awkward depending on the circumstances. I can dance like I will live forever, and cry like I am dying in 10 minutes. And I spend most evenings delightfully scrolling through pictures of my nieces and nephews.
But I have more inner space and that is partly because writing has supported me in moving out a lot of clutter. Like hoarding clutter. Like thoughts and feelings from other lifetimes, other people, and the lifetimes of those people.
Storing other people’s feelings is a common consequence of living in families and cultures that consider enmeshment as intimacy, duty and loyalty. In Who is Wellness For, writer Fariha Róisín candidly writes about the harm she experienced in her home, growing up in a Bangladeshi family living in Australia, under the weight of her mother’s trauma and rage that led to violent mental health episodes. Her writing is vivid and not for the faint of heart. And in the crossfire of her mother’s uncontrollable rage, Róisín shares how her response as a child seeking connection and affection was to offer her body as a place for her mother to store and inject her pain and fears and darkness, so she would not feel alone in them.
I could relate. As someone who feels everything, pain and anxiety and anger and chaos happening around me can often feel like it’s happening to me. With little concept or guidance on how to manage this emotional capacity, I became hyper-proficient at dissociating. Without mindfulness, it is still my default response to the throws of participating in life. Though there is abundant literature on dissociating - my experience can be summed up by my body’s refusal to be present with the breadth and depth of what is, as it is.
When the body can not be present with big feelings the mind moves into manic solution mode. How do I fix this? How do I help? What should I say? My solution became a kind of juvenile mirroring as a distorted form of intimacy and connection: if you are sad, I will be sad. If you are angry, I will be angry. This incidentally led to emotional hoarding, and feelings of resentment that chipped away at my physical body. Now, with more mental health literacy that enmeshment is the story of a total and utter lack of boundaries.
I didn’t initially know writing was responding to the crisis alarming inside, but I knew I had to do it and so I did, almost weekly for the last 20 months. There have been months when I experienced a euphoric sense of flow, but lately, it has been harder to find the words, harder to sit in front of a laptop.
Back in the late 40s, diarist Anaïs Nin reflected on her purpose for writing: ‘why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics.’
My friend M once reflected a similar sentiment to me - ‘you write to create a world you feel like you can actually live in.’ It is kind of dramatic but I have never felt like I could actually live in this world. Survive yes. Adapt yes. Cope yes. But not live. The distinction between these forms of existence is all somatic, defined by the shapes and levels of contortion and tension in my body.
Between racial and gender projections, cultural expectations, neurotypical tendencies and temperaments, capitalist pressures and intergenerational trauma sans the support for healing, I just could not figure it out. I did try and my attempt at being a person of worth has taken so many iterations and machinations of the mind; continuously plotting and scheming through personality tests and lists and mind maps in new and hopeful journals for clues on where I could find aliveness in the world of sexy and celebrated options. But that wore me down too.
I understand now why I am quick to resist and hold steadfastly - because I experienced the world as a place that was always ready to throw me on its conveyer belt and mould me at its whim if I showed any sign of openness to it. The ideas and expectations attached to the good daughter, the good wife and the good worker wore me down. My spirit was not on board.
I know we chalk up this experience of not being able to live in the world as lacking ‘belonging,’ but there is something about that word that makes me gag, partly because of how spoiled it has become within the white-led diasporic narrative and perhaps because I am not actually seeking to belong. I’m seeking to exist as I am now, and continue to become with support and grace. Aren’t we all to some extent?
Each failure in the trying has been necessary - because only through the felt experience could I summon the language to write another way. Writing earnestly about what has hurt, frustrated, pained and enraged me was the salt for my imagination. I wrote about what I disdained, abhorred and rejected, but I also wrote about what I wanted and needed for me and whoever saw themselves in all of it too.
I think why I am asking myself why I write, or even what else there is to write is because I am finally closer to living inside a world that my nervous system can live in. It is a world that I constructed out of words, will and clearing. It is a world that so many have poured their love into.
I recognize this is a pretty odd thing to say because there are few markers of systemic changes, policies or headlines that reflect the world I want us to live in. Today alone, with the news of Roe vs. Wade overturning down South, there is a part of our orbit that feels unrecognizable; like a ghost haunting us from patriarchy’s lineage.
But I had this moment of clarity earlier this week when Beyonce released her new song, Break My Soul, at midnight, which kept me up all night and subsequently dominated my consciousness and conversations the following next day. The moment was not that the song is impossibly catchy, which it obviously is because Robin S. gave it to us three decades ago, but rather the speed at which this cultural artifact was equally held with joy, critique and awareness of its political dimensions on mass.
My small world felt awake and I was thrilled to be living inside of it - because there was this collective recognition that Beyonce was not about to get anyone free - capitalizing on a political moment rather than fortifying it - but, we were going to dance anyway. And keep nurturing the world that so many writers, artists and advocates labour towards in their work and supporting the folks constructing structures and spaces from the earth upwards to protect all that is sacred despite the cycles of chaos on chaos. It is remarkable how much of the work of remaking and revolution will never be seen and is folded inside art made in garages, neon billboards in the streets, meals in tiny living rooms, voice notes checking in, deep breaths on grass and memes to share in the absurdity of it all. This too is organizing.
Perhaps what made the world so difficult to live in was that I did not trust that these acts of care mattered. Maybe I was afraid we wouldn’t ‘figure it out’ because I couldn’t ‘figure it out.’ When I started working in international development almost 15 years ago, the challenges felt insurmountable. They still feel that way. Nothing short of overthrowing the system seemed adequate. But, I was not wise enough to respect that living and revolution happen in the interstitial, between the headlines, and inside the tender and earnest way, we lean into life and care for all that we encounter. It is a million acts of care that emerge out of a radical politic and resistance in the body that lights a wildfire. I can truly see the people’s wildfire being lit amidst the dark skies.
‘We are in a time of new suns’ - Adrienne Marie Brown.
Writing is how I moved an intolerable amount of despair and rage out of my body so I could open, open, open. Where do we go from here? I trust, I trust, I trust.