If I could categorize my life into phases, I would call this stage the ‘Writing’ one. It was preceded by several others, namely: the ‘Growing Up’ one, the ‘Life Experience’ one, the ‘Acts of Service’ one, the ‘Having Babies’ one. While many of those themes overlap into this time period, with one tumbling into another, this phase is marked by its own energy too.
You would imagine, perhaps, that a writer has a largely inactive lifestyle. Maybe the images of a person hunched over a typewriter or taking up a pen in hand come to mind.
I’d say, yes, that’s true in part. I feel slightly cut off from people in the sense that when in writing mode, I don’t engage as much. The yearning to wander off and scribble down a few lines, so as not to allow them to scamper away, does happen at inopportune moments (while massaging kale with avocado or picking up melting soap in the shower).
Yet there are other elements to this phase that I’ve been noticing too.
We writers are first readers. At six years old, I finished reading my first novel (“The Princess and the Goblin” by George MacDonald). I didn’t understand a word. Since then, more books, more authors, more pages turned.
I read the embellished prose of Dickens; the clipped lines of e.e. cummings; the undulating rhythm of sonnets.
I pause over a well-placed period or an unexpected metaphor. My chest swells when a dash rushes by attached to a dangling clause. The abuse and misuse of grammar function like an oily saucepan—dirty, slippery, yet serving up something unexpectedly delicious.
Then there are the words. When chosen gingerly, the words themselves fly off a page. They command. Thrill. Ignite. I file words into the ever-expanding glossary in my brain, fingering through them as through a card catalog.
Just look at the shivering spine belonging to my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus circa 1989. Its burdened covers dipped in evergreen and buttered with gold letters shelter frayed pages. Now my once-indispensable companion sits in a box on its way to donation, long since replaced by a lively cyber-version. But this faithful sentinel steered me through many a college paper—offering the verbs to keep action flowing and warding off the dreaded redundancy.
Beyond the need for hearty reading material lies something deeper. We writers are watchers first and foremost.
We are the observers of idiosyncrasies; the documenters of nuance. We watch when you don’t know we are watching—copping material like thieves. We steal glances; we pilfer expressions; we dream of new ways to say commonplace things so that you hardly recognize them.
And then you thank us for seeing you—seeing you in a way that you’ve never been seen.
We capture the vapor of your breath and crystallize it, or the sigh parting your lips and immortalize it—much as an artist dips into paint and singes a singular moment of time onto canvas.
Because sometimes we write with vanishing ink. But other times we drop words like monuments. They linger behind your eyes or, better still, they nestle in your breast.
It is no secret, then, that we wish beyond all reason, to leave behind a measure of ourselves. As if to say, this is my imprint. A tangible blueprint of my life.