As a child, it came effortlessly. I’d sit down at our boxy PC and write thousands of words for nothing but the joy of exploring my own imagination. I didn’t fret about publication or money or recognition. Second to breathing, writing stories felt like the most natural thing in the world. Then, somewhere in community college, a bunch of insecurities began to creep in.
I hadn’t read that much—especially fiction. I felt intimidated by people I perceived to be “literary types,” and somehow got the idea that one was only a real writer if they read very specific authors and took themselves very seriously. I didn’t. I scribbled things in a journal, fell madly in love far too often, and let my creative impulses fall by the wayside. I backed away from the challenge to grow as a writer because suddenly I had to try at it.
My BA is in psychology, and I’d planned to attend graduate school and march on in the world of research. It felt pretty safe. After all, I knew how to do school. If I studied hard, I couldn’t fail. It was a sensible path, unlike the one of writing, which can be turbulent and discouraging at best.
After I graduated, I was hired at a clinic that tested psychiatric drugs on people. The ethical implications of working there were terrifying, to say the least. At that time in my life I was angrier and more lost than I’d ever been, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I understand it now: When we don’t walk our true paths, we suffer more. We lash out at others and our dysfunctional egos want people to fall off course, just as we have. My isolation was deep and I drank a lot. My self-loathing was at an all-time high. Sometimes I felt like my life was already over.
Then I got laid off from that job, and it was a huge relief. I knew I didn’t want to be in that field anymore, but was I too stubborn to change courses. The first job I landed was at the food co-op where I work now. I wasn’t using my degree, and I had no idea if I ever would again. All I knew was that things had to change, but still, I wasn’t writing.
What I really think is that my soul forced me into it.
One day, I was struggling with some problematic feelings and beginning to notice the unhealthy patterns I was in. The specific problem is too much to dig into, but suffice it to say that it’s dominated my psyche for a long time—it still does, though at least I’m conscious of it now. As I dwelled on this issue and wrote about it for my personal analysis, something suddenly snapped in my brain.
As cliché as it sounds, I heard myself saying “this is my life.” I started to laugh and cry simultaneously, and from that moment forward, my life started to change. I was thrust into a disorienting array of questions about life’s meaning—if there was any at all. It was all very amateur existentialist kind of stuff. I could not understand the purpose of anything and felt like I was just floating around, almost separate from my body.
I began to maniacally write about what I was experiencing, and shortly thereafter, I vomited out a (very bad) novel. It was as if some other part of my being had been a coiled spring pushed down inside of me, and when I understood that writing was a huge missing piece, it just leapt out. I had little to no control over that process.
Writing became the thing that could help me further empathy, show untold perspectives, and create some small change in people’s minds. Writing became the most comprehensive way for me to examine different viewpoints. Writing became my way to contribute to a more unified world. I also believe that widespread art precedes revolution, and this is the form that comes most naturally to me.
I’d like to say that after that initial period of semi-insanity, I’ve gotten calmer; that now I write with more meted passion. Even more encouraging would be to say that I’m back to writing like I did as a child: unselfconsciously and happily locked away in another world.
But the truth is that things have only gotten more difficult and crazy since I began to write. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in December after a full-blown manic episode—yes, I’m aware that that might be the most mundane thing a writer can say. If there’s one thing I’ve done right in the last year, it’s been to keep writing no matter what.
In short, I write because I must. I think all artists can relate to that. Without creation, we deny our true selves; we deny what it is to be who we are. It’d be nice if writing was a decision I consciously made, but it wasn’t. I ignored the call and pushed it away out of of fear and uncertainty for years before I had a pretty serious mental collapse. I emerged with (quite literally) nothing but the understanding that writing is crucial to having meaning in my life.
The turbulent path of creation is the only path for me, and for all artists who persist in spite of the odds of “success.” But if we spend our lives doing right by our souls regardless of recognition, it doesn’t seem right to call that failure. Living true is a reward unto itself.