All the movies about finding yourself somewhere other than where you grew up are about your destination. Sure, they give a thirty second tribute to where you’ve come from, generally using the cliché shot of the main character staring out the back of a foggy car window amid a jungle of boxes, but that is quickly forgotten in favor of a city full of skyscrapers and illusions of opportunity. It’s always the same. The story is all about the person leaving, not who or what the person left. It’s always about whom they meet, not who they forgot. But there are lies in this.
Filmmakers tend to steer away from the idea that the clip of the person’s life being portrayed is as short of a span as the past which is briefly described and abandoned for this whole new turn of the leaf. But when you turn over a leaf, you find that it’s nothing more than a leaf. Unless photosynthesis and other means of science are your fancy, then there is nothing significant about that. It’s the same with life. Sure, all these people in this new part of the life, the characters in the movie, are new, but soon they will be the ones you are leaving in favor of new ones in the next step, the sequel. People labor under the false impression that life is about the people with them or those in front of them. They all too quickly forget those behind them. It is okay to turn your back. It is okay to take the next few strides in your journey but dismissing the steps behind you leaves you empty without a story or a past. Life is a series of steps, but it is more importantly a journey. The people you leave behind are as important as the people beside you or the people in front of you. In the end, they’re all just people and they all have something to teach you whether or not you know it, as long as you’re willing to pay attention. As obscure and possibly convoluted as this might sound, life, I’ve found, is not about where you are going. It is about where you have been, where you are, and where you will end up.
A few years ago, I took a creative writing class and we had to write a manifesto about why we write. So, of course, like any immature sophomore with a love of writing, or at least the idea of it, but not so much the understanding of it, I said the reason I wrote was because I had a genuine love for it, a passion, a desire to be a great writer, all that rot that you find scribbled on a thousand paper napkins and paper bags in schoolgirl handwriting because you’d rather be artistic than genuine. Wonderful.
Lucky for me, that has changed.
I think a writer’s purpose somehow either validates or taints his or her writing. I think if you claim to be writing for the wrong reasons, rather than the ones seeded somewhere closer to the truth, your writing comes off as a bit insecure, too affected. This would explain why you could tell my writing, especially at that age, was written by a girl who wanted to be a writer, rather than a writer. I do not claim to know exactly why I write now but I have a better idea. Primarily, I just do. Some people when they’re kids get preoccupations with drawing, some prefer tag, others pick up baseball. I picked up a pencil. That’s just it. I’ve been doing it so long there really is no reason to stop. It has become my vehicle for dealing with, escaping, and seeing my life and the world. I write because it’s something I have worked at and am genuinely interested and in love with. I love it but not because I have to love something or because it’s a miracle or just destiny. I don’t claim to have been born a writer. I just do it by habit.
Writing is my rescue as much as my habit. I write because like all people, I have something in me that sets me apart from normalcy. We all do. We’re creatures of dysfunction and there is no universal normalcy but at the same time all of our societies had the idea of one and we chase it like dogs to trucks. Whether my tail is cut short or I’ve got one spot too many, there is something in me that just does not follow suit. I don’t do pretty and everybody knows I am anything but perfect or put together. There is always a fray or an ink stain that breaks that deal. So I write. It doesn’t make me any more of those things that I am not and a lot of people try to find that thing that makes them more normal. Instead, I have found something that appeases the social conformer inside of me and breaks away from it. The world is not perfect. People are poor. People screw up. The dining room rug is covered in cat hair and smells musty. Malls, prom, and little black dresses are a very small fraction of reality. Writing helps me deal with that reality and by trying to tear away from all those illusions of what teenage and young adult life should be, I reveal that, or try to in my writing. I write because I am not always outspoken but I am opinionated and it gives me the best voice. I write because it just worked out that way.
You find out whether or not you’re a writer the same way you test whether or not you’re immortal: you throw yourself in front of a bus! If you live, congratulations – you’re an angel. If you die, you’re a sorry bastard like the rest of us. If you live but have to go through months and months of mental and physical therapy, staggering up the steps to find you’re having trouble going forward, or travelling back to the time you were left behind, and come to find that maybe those are the reasons you decided to kiss a moving bumper, well congratulations – you’re a writer. My writing is full of ash trays and profanity. There is nothing more grounded, more honest than flipping somebody the bird from the open window of a car, cigarette wasting away in the ash tray, radio buzzing in and out on account of a dying frequency. Heat. Need. Rush. Honesty. Reality is an ugly thing and the only time things are beautiful is when they are real. Everything else is full of lies. Ugly, evasive lies. Who wants a white winter wonderland? Give me a little snow written in with yellow pee – at least that has a story to it. If we were like snow and fell to the ground perfect and untainted, the story would be a shut and close book with one picture. I don’t want that. I want conflicted and spinning and genuinely fucked up. I want dysfunction. I don’t want to embrace despair; I’m not a masochist. I just want something real. I want something with character, something that lives and breathes without me. The purpose of a writer is not to make things come alive, it’s to capture the things that exist in themselves. Forget your one page story book. Keep your country club family and those damn white sweaters you tie around your perfectly sculpted necks. Don’t give me lies and deceit. Don’t create problems for the sake of creating them; just show me where they exist. Show me where there is dysfunction. Throw dust and sweat on those sweaters. Add a blemish or two, maybe a hickey to one of those necks. Show me reality because I am sick of everything else. I don’t want generic fiction some aspiring writer had to dream up or standardize.
I don’t care if I write something offensive. I don’t care if it’s profane. I don’t care if it’s a bit off-color as long as it’s real, as long as it means something. I would rather write what needs censorship than what is pleasantly accepted because at least then I am saying something, which somebody else refused to say or couldn’t say. Abuse, violence, drugs, a third world buried in our own society that we don’t have to travel by boat to live in, to have clog our dirty, over-oiled pores, that’s the life I live, that’s the world I know and fairytales are only for bedtime. There is a reason nightmares wake us up in the night, they mean to alarm us, to catch our sweating, panting attention. Don’t get me wrong, I want to write whatever comes to me but should I ever become a great writer, I don’t want to write what people expect me to write.
I want to write what needs writing.