Jo at Mylestones described yesterday her weekend of quotidian experiences with her children, concluding, with lovely, resonant truth: “I write so I won’t forget. I write because the little moments matter to me, because they add up to my life.”
She closed her post by asking her readers two questions: Why do you write? What small little moments of the last few days do you want to remember?
I’ll take those in reverse order. The last few days have held a profusion of small moments. Last night, checking on Grace and Whit to see them sleeping in the same bed (the condo we are staying in has two double beds in their room). They were turned away from each other, each a comma on the pillowy white landscape of the pristine bedding. Convincing a crying, ornery Whit yesterday to ride on the bike attached to the back of mine only to hear him proclaim, after a few minutes, “Hey, mummy! You were right! This is super fun!” Watching the backs of two cousins heads, dark and otter-sleek, as they bobbed together in the pool. The night sky scattered with more stars than I’ve ever seen – the light-spangled darkness seemed to arch over us in a semi-circle, coming all the way down to the horizon – last night while Hilary and I walked on the beach after dinner.
The why I write question is one I think of all the time. The answer is both simple and complex. It is about community, it is about catharsis, it is about excavating truth even as I speak it. It is about, more than anything, the way that I am inspired, over and over again, as a reader, and about my stubborn and perhaps wrong-headed hope that I might provide that feeling for someone else. (originally written on 9/20/2009):
There’s been a proliferation of interesting writing on the topic of Why We Blog this week. Ronna addressed it, focusing on three main points: that blogging is a way to get outside ourselves, is therapeutic, and is a way to tell our stories. She asserted, and I agree, that we all have myriad stories to tell. She hinted that in this telling we are both ourselves enriched and, possibly, privileged to participate in the growth of others. Ronna included an Isak Dinesen quote I love: To be a person is to have a story to tell.
She followed up this post with a second, the next day, about the way that “blogging is a way to create and experience community.” I very much agree with this point, which echoed Aidan’s thoughtful observations on why she blogs. I share the sentiment that blogging is a way to meet (and be met by) people whose lives and stories are very different from our own. I am sometimes keenly aware of the general homogeneity of my life. I love my life, of course, but I do have a certain restlessness of the spirit that is slaked, in part, by learning about people whose lives and choices are very different from my own.
So I’ve been thinking this weekend about Why I Blog. I know I feel a visceral impulse to share the stories of my life, both the mundane ones and the meaningful ones. I know that writing often helps me put shape around my nascent or amorphous thoughts, helps me understand the underlying current beneath a riptide of emotion. Joan Didion put it best: “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking.”
But there’s another, impossible to ignore, reason why I blog. After all, blogging both assumes and actively seeks an audience. Obviously I need, on some level, to know that someone is reading my words. I think this is a reflection of the basic human need to be truly seen. But is it exhibitionistic? Does it make the thoughts and content less meaningful? Is it the wrong thing, to want someone to be reading? I have thought about this a lot, struggling with the initial feeling that it is immature and needy of me to need someone to be out there reading me. On some level this is just a continuation of a pattern of needing to be validated and approved by the big bad world out there, isn’t it?
I think it is that, yes. But I think it is more than that too. I imagine that most writers write for an audience, whether it’s an audience of one (perhaps Steven King’s Ideal Reader) or millions. I cannot in good conscience claim the title of “writer” for myself, but I know that one reason I blog is because I hope to, someday, provide for someone else that shimmering sigh of recognition that some writing I’ve read has given me. That bone-deep sense of being not alone when someone else can put into words thoughts or feelings that have swarmed incoherently around my head and heart. If I can, someday, give a single reader that feeling that I have had so many times in my years of blog-reading, then I will be happy. It feels arrogant to even wish for that, but in truth, I do. I am personally sustained by those moments when someone else’s writing makes my heart physically swell with identification and awareness, and I aspire to provide that for someone else.
For me, more than the community, more than the catharsis, more than the story-telling, it’s about that. About that feeling of recognition, that single moment when you read a sentence or a paragraph and suddenly understand something you’ve known all along in a new way. Which, when I think about it, is sort of an amalgam of community, catharsis, and story-telling. I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of that feeling many times, and I continue to hope that I might provide it for someone out there.
To illustrate my point, here is one such passage – a paragraph that made me shiver because it put into such beautiful words something I’ve thought before. A paragraph that happens to be ABOUT that feeling. (oh so very meta).
Have you ever looked at, say, a picture or a great building or read a paragraph in a book and felt the world suddenly expand and, at the same instant, contract and harden into a kernel of perfect purity?
– Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries
Yes, I have. And I did just there. And that’s why I write.
(And no, I am not arrogantly comparing myself to one of the great writers of the last few decades. No. I come up to Carol Shields’ ankle. But she inspires me.)