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.
I’ve always longed to be a person who could effortlessly hold up his end of any conversation, the sort of man who impresses others with his wit and wisdom. But I’ve never been that clever, which is probably why I cling to writing so much.
The thing that brought this to mind is I recently met someone who sparked my creativity. My first real communication with her was a haiku I’d written about her. I gave her a copy of the haiku. Though I found her quite attractive, I wasn’t trying to hit on her. I just wanted to pay a small compliment.
I eventually did ask her out. Much to my surprise, she accepted, and the ensuing date was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had. But I wasn’t nearly as sharp in person as I wanted to be. This is just the sort of situation where, even at my best, I feel like I’m treading water. I can’t seem to dial up words in normal conversation like I can when writing — where I can edit every syllable before anyone ever sees it.
Maybe I got away with a sub-par performance. Maybe I didn’t do as badly as I thought, but this is the kind of scenario that comes to mind when I think about how much more comfortable I am writing than speaking.
When I get caught behind in a real-time discussion, it’s obvious. But when I write, no one can tell how long it took to form each sentence, or how many times I switched out half the words. So it may seem the words flowed from my mind the way some phrases roll off a cleverer person’s tongue. And that often leaves me with the slightest sense of guilt — that I might just be fooling people who’ve only been exposed to me through writing.
And then, of course, there are those who don’t even think that much of my writing, to whom this whole thought process must seem a waste of time. Which it may be anyway.
Pictured above are the nibs of three fountain pens. Clockwise from the top right they are a Diplomat, a Waterman and an Ohto Tasche. For those of you who don’t know, I happen to love a good fountain pen. It’s mostly due to the amount of writing I still do with pen and paper — it gets a lot easier when the tools are both durable and comfortable.
I purchased the Diplomat for myself back in the early 90s, while the other two were birthday gifts. Incidentally, the two that were gifts have performed consistently better than the one on which I spent my own money. I figure that’s worth mentioning, given the occasion — which could be any or all of the following:
- the 233rd anniversary of the first signing of the Declaration of Independence. I know people generally believe this to have happened on the fourth, but the initial signing actually did happen on the second.
- the exact midpoint of any non-leap year.
- my birthday.
I’ve been doing this (mostly) handwritten haiku routine since the beginning of the month. It’s a little extra effort, but it’s kind of fun doing something different. The idea came from a post on Colin’s blog (the newly retitled First initial, last name), and was subsequently encouraged by a few of my favorite commenters.
Two and a half weeks into this experiment, I’m starting to wonder if I might be able to get some input from my little audience of haiku readers. If anyone would be so inclined, I’d love to be able to post a few guest haiku of the handwritten variety. Anyone willing to try is welcome to send an image of a self-written haiku. They don’t have to be in any particular style of writing — however you write is fine. It can be as artistic or as straightforward as you like.
If you’d like to help me out, please email any offerings or questions to me at email@example.com. Please feel free to take part, or click here to check out the contributions collected thus far.
NOTE: Though it didn’t occur to me to post this originally, I want to make sure everyone understands that I won’t try to take credit for any contributions sent my way. I will credit each one as the author specifies, including a link to the contributor’s website if applicable. Also, images can be hosted here, or served from a third-party site such as Flickr.