Why we write

On not writing about illness

On not writing about illness

I don’t want to write about this, she said.

For the woman who spoke these too familiar words to me, this was illness. Insidious, consuming, chronic. I nodded because it was also my story, just with different symptoms. We spoke in the shorthand we had each become practiced at employing around our narratives, framing conditions that did not, in spite of our best efforts, abate. I don’t know how to write about this, I thought. And I wondered if that was what, deep down, she had meant.

On listening to our creative blocks

On listening to our creative blocks

I have been thinking about a writing project that I’m afraid to start.

To anyone else, the project looks innocuous: a few CDs and a folder of handwritten notes tucked inside a paper box I picked up at IKEA. The box is white with a metal bracket on one side for a label, but I’ve left that blank. I know what’s in there. I don’t need any reminders.

I’ve quite literally shelved this, wedged the collection of artifacts into the bookcase where I keep my journals, until I can figure out what’s holding me back. Because the story in that box needs to come out. But every time I think about it, I find a distraction, an excuse not to open the lid. E-mails that need replies; bills that need sorting; you name it, I’ll clean it. I’d rather do anything than clean — except face what’s in that box.

On observing the ordinary

On observing the ordinary

Bigger happenings naturally invite us to make record of them. Births, graduations, weddings, deaths — all the events that can be looked up in the archives of a newspaper. But I’m drawn to the ordinary moments, the ones that risk being forgotten, like the details in a dream. They have a tendency to blur, to fade, to merge or fuse with other memories, leaving faint impressions at best if I don’t note them with intention. Maybe it’s because they are so easily lost that they cause a certain sort of anxiety, a creative tension that wants to be unwound on the page. I’m afraid of waking up one morning with a deep sense of ordinary time spent — but no way to make meaning from my fuzzy recall of how I spent it.