I had my first writing class today. It is a nine week class called “Introduction to Creative Writing” and it is supposed to be a survey of all the different genres of creative writing (fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, personal essay, memoir, etc.), wherein we deconstruct and analyze poems and writings to learn what makes them good and then apply those lessons to our own writing via in-class exercises and homework. Aside from the rather precarious dance with public transportation that takes me to Potrero Hill, a neighborhood that for no good reason has scared me during my entire tenure as a San Francisco resident, I’m excited. I never took an English class in college and aside from high school, I’ve never had any formal instruction or training in any form of creative writing.
The class started with our instructor asking us to read the following quote from Katherine Anne Porter:
“I started out with nothing in the world but a kind of passion, a driving desire. I don’t know where it came from, and I do not know why — or why I have been so stubborn about it that nothing could deflect me. But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”
I stared silently at these words as the class droned on, their voices dissolving into white noise that I easily ignored. I know this quote is supposed to have a profound effect on me. It is supposed to trigger something in my writer’s soul. “Aha! A kindred spirit,” I should say.
Because I don’t feel that way about my writing. At least, I don’t think I do. When I read that quote I immediately thought, “Well, replace “my writing” with “music” and that’s dead on. But writing? Writing, interestingly, is not necessarily something I enjoy. I don’t revel in wordsmithing or crafting stories. I don’t carry a journal and a pen with me everywhere I go in hopes of crafting the next great short story. I don’t ride an emotional high when I complete something I’m satisfied with. In fact, I find writing to be a chore.
I write because I feel compelled to do so. I write because, to put it simply, I can’t not.
Riding the bus home tonight, music of course blaring into my ears, this stark contrast between my feeling and connection with music and writing perplexed me. In class, as we sat in deeply tufted couches amidst the police sirens and ever-present smell of chai to deconstruct the intent, meaning, and greatness of a particular piece of writing, I couldn’t help but think “But this is what I do with music.”
I can hear a song and let it wash over me, marinate in it, live in it. I can spend hours deconstructing the meaning of that song, both lyrically from the writer’s perspective, lyrically from my perspective, the intention behind the song structure, melody, or riffs. I hear things that other people don’t. I know this because when I try to explain it to others they stare back blankly. When I hear a great song I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen about it. It is a gift and a curse. A great song becomes a part of me. It changes me. It can destroy me and move me in a way no piece of writing ever has.
But here I am. I’ve quit my job to pursue my writing. I’m considering going to school for it. I’ve shelled out $350 and am risking life and limb every week in order to learn more about it. I am consciously forcing myself to write more.
Like I said, I can’t not.
So this is where I come down on it: Music is my best friend. It has never failed me. It has always been there for me. I could “talk” to music for hours and I always walk away feeling better about myself, about life, about the world in general. Music is nothing but good times. But if you were to take music away from me, I could go on. I might not enjoy life the way I did with it in my life, but I would be ok.
Writing is love. Something that I am drawn to despite my own protestations. Something that I try to love on my own terms but fail. Writing commands me. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. And if you were to take writing away from me, to be honest, I’m not sure I would be ok. I quit my job because I did not like the person I had become and I did not like where I was headed. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that my job did not give me the space and the personal resources to address my compulsion to write. I know that I was headed down a very negative path and something had to give. Money and prestige or my sanity? I choose sanity. And Chaka Khan.
“But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”
I hope that over time I am able to internalize this, acknowledge it as a truism and wear it as a badge of honor. But for now I am pleased and somewhat proud of myself that instead of letting the writing rule my life, I am taking active measures to learn how to control this compulsion. Because at the end of the day, I know that writing and I will be together forever. We might as well start learning how to live with each other.