Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why write?

Why do you write?

My answers to this question, whether raised by someone else or posed for my own rumination, have gone through quite a few changes. My early responses, as much as I'm able to recite them now, sound artificial, inflated with false importance, with a residue of a need to justify myself that I've not felt for a long time.

I was thinking about this as I bicycled home from the wine store. I was feeling good. The shiraz was going to be perfect with beans and brown rice and corn and the salsa I made the other day with tomatoes and cilantro from my garden. I finished a story I’ve been working on since the end of July—something new for me; a kind of political surrealism. I sat on the porch in front of my apartment in the Philadelphia heat and read the Sherman Alexie story in this week’s New Yorker—a story I liked quite a lot. I’m looking forward to writing a review, perhaps after diner if I can get started before the second glass of shiraz. Altogether a good day!

I’ve been struggling with my novel. The Barking Dog has been on vacation. When I don’t have new words to show for my time I get depressed. If that goes on for long—seriously depressed. I wake up at night in a state of mild panic. I drink more than is good for me at the end of the day.

All I have to do is finish a story, a poem, make good progress on the novel, and the depression melts away. I feel, at least for the rest of the day—at home in my own life. And there it is, the short version of why I write: I feel good when I do… and miserable when I don’t. And the deeper reasons of why that should be so no longer interest me.


  1. Hey, you. I remember you, quite fondly, and was reminded of you, and the great help you gave me years ago, when I randomly saw this crap below (not your crap, the crap below your crap), and looked for you, again. Peace. -- Paul

    >When I don’t have new words to show for my time I get depressed. If that goes on for long—seriously depressed. I wake up at night in a state of mild panic.

    I saw this bromide and thought it actually fairly good for cutting through crap rap:

    I’m so sorry to hear that life is getting you down at the moment. Goodness knows, it can be so tough when nothing seems to fit and little seems to be fulfilling. I’m not sure there’s any specific advice I can give that will help bring life back its savour. Although they mean well, it’s sometimes quite galling to be reminded how much people love you when you don’t love yourself that much.

    I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:

    Here are some obvious things about the weather:

    It’s real.

    You can’t change it by wishing it away.

    If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.

    It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


    It will be sunny one day.

    It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.

    One day.

    It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness - these are as real as the weather - AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’s CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


    They will pass: they really will.

    In the same way that one has to accept the weather, so one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes.

    ‘Today’s a crap day,’ is a perfectly realistic approach. It’s all about finding a kind of mental umbrella.

    ‘Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.’

    I don’t know if any of that is of any use: it may not seem it, and if so, I’m sorry. I just thought I’d drop you a line to wish you well in your search to find a little more pleasure and purpose in life.

    Very best wishes


    Stephen Fry

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  3. I'm guessing this must be Paul of NOLA, pre-Katrina. Good to hear from you! Spent the last 12 years teaching freshman English at Saint Joseph's University--with the exception of Fall of 2004 when I was laid up after being hit by a car. Recession reduced incoming students this year and as an adjunct, part-timer, got laid off. Decided to make it permanent. Live on Social Security and food stamps--transfer teaching time to community service and political action. Keep busy getting arrested ( ), phone banking for Health Care, managing this blog, finishing a novel...

    Life is good--while it is.

    How you been? Where are you living now?

  4. Good guess, Jacob! Got out of New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina hit with two days of clothes, two cats, and only one girlfriend. Lost everything else. Life got better! Three cats, one wife, and tons of sweaters in Denver. Vastly better jobs for both of us (though the cats are still on welfare}. An incredible story - email me at paulscrawl at the google email with a phone # please -- we would both love to fly you out here for a visit

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