I’ve been thinking about where the impulse to write originates. Not in a macro-literary sense, like “what causes people in general to write,” but in the sense of what drives me to write. It’s not a new question, but it is one for which the answer is always changing.
In exploring why I write, perhaps I’m bucking the words of Joan Didion, who described the impulse as “a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.” She goes on to suggest it begins “in the cradle” – which I come closer to believing each day.
I trace it back in my own life, over and over. I usually settle somewhere in my early childhood, during which I had tremendous difficulty learning to read and write. Then I string it forward a bit, adopting the notion that we tend to value the things we fight hardest to obtain or achieve. And maybe that’s where I fell in love with scribbling words on paper, where I decided this is something that might fulfill my creative urges. And yet there’s a part of me that can’t accept the value in what I create.
Today’s secondhand haiku comes courtesy of PJ, a fairly frequent commenter on this site. Her haiku strikes an apt chord as it pertains to the way too much of our media bombards young people (and, I suppose, people in general) with all the wrong ideas.
So I had a wife – beautiful, like you, who tells me, I worry too much; who tells me, I ought to smile more; who gambles, and gets in deep with sharks.
One day they carve her face. We have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it!
I just want to see her smile again. I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars.
– The Joker (from The Dark Knight)
photo: Tracy O
I posted this lyric because every time the song comes up on my mp3 player, I tend to think of any number of girls or women I’ve known who seem to obsess over some idea of beauty or worth as though it were the diametric opposite of what they are.
Such obsessions have always puzzled me, especially since I tend to be amazed by women in general. Often when I point out what I think are signs of beauty, I get some form of reprimand from whomever I’m trying to compliment. It makes me feel like either my concept of beauty is skewed, or they see every reflection of themselves as though it were in a funhouse mirror. Maybe it’s because so many people in general are overly self-critical, but in my epxerience it seems to be more prevalent among females. Which bothers me immensely.
It doesn’t bother me just because my attempts to compliment females end up being rebuffed, but also because I have four young nieces. The idea of any one of them struggling against poisonous self-perceptions or societally-imposed expectations makes me feel a strange combination of sadness and infuriation.
It strikes me that reducing people’s worth to mere surface appearance does severe disservice even to those with the most sparkling veneers. When I get to know a person, the visage I see is influenced by other attributes I come to recognize in them. It’s not unlike the way a person’s sense of taste is affected by their sense of smell – only with a person, there’s much more that goes into the equation.
We shouldn’t become so concerned with one facet of our identities that we discount the other factors making us who we are. And we shouldn’t make the mistake of judging others that way, either. Now, if only a simple blog post could make it so…