I was wondering the other day what my writing output has been like over these last two years, and my site stats show that I’ve published 182 posts. Which averages to about a post every 4 days (although most of that is thanks to my daily posting at the beginning of Covid). While that was useful, what was more interesting were the 42 posts that were saved as drafts.
Some are nearly complete, but most are a few sentences, or just a phrase that captured an idea I had in the moment. I have a notebook that I carry with me everywhere, full of scribble and shorthand as I hastily take down some interesting factoid that I’d come across, or a line in some book I was reading; the Notes app on my phone has lists and lists of random ideas.
I have been a writer as long as I can remember. At 6 or 7 I created my first picture book, a dozen pages in my large, careful, childish hand, all bound together by ribbons strung through holes I punched out with a sharp pencil. From long-hand entries in countless journals, to stories and poems saved on my first Mac (remember floppy disks?), I wrote constantly. In high school I was in a writing club; I even wrote a short novel.
We all have ways of processing the world, and of discovering our authentic selves. I have a friend from back home in Hawaii who is a realtor, but who feels truly himself, and truly a part of the world, only when he’s in the ocean, draped over his surfboard and squinting over his shoulder, waiting for a good set to roll in. My mom is an exquisite cook, and finding the right recipe for the right occasion, perfecting a new technique, creating and conjuring memories through food – these are where she’s most creative, most engaged, most at peace.
For me, it’s been an even split between performing and writing. I’ve told people that being on the podium is the most comfortable place in the world, because I feel so focused and grounded in myself and in the present. But performance is also my job, my career, and so there’s always the sense that it’s not something I’m creating for myself. In fact I like performing precisely because it’s actually about other people; the orchestra in front of me, the audience behind me. Everything I do is in service of them, not myself.
Writing is selfish. And I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense. It’s selfish in the sense that I do it for me, in service of me. I work through my heartache, process my trials, celebrate my discoveries through writing. And it becomes a tangible reminder of where I’ve been and what I thought and felt; it’s like looking back at an earlier iteration of myself through the words I’ve put down. It’s clearer than any photo.
Putting those words out into the world, for public consumption – that’s a whole other case. Writing becomes an act of faith. Because while I know that writing is a deeply personal process, I have to believe that this process could be meaningful for someone else. When I write these posts, I imagine that someone, somewhere, reads my words and realizes that there are others who have gone through what they have gone through, who have shared the same emotions. I imagine that someone, somewhere, feels understood. That someone, somewhere feels a little less alone.
I was in Hawaii last week for a set of concerts (and a few stolen hours on the beach!), and an orchestra member knocked on my dressing room door before our final rehearsal. They had been following my blog, and had been touched by my writing, especially about my father’s suicide. How brave you are to put your stories out there, they said. I’ve never really felt brave, I said, it’s just that putting my stories out into the world makes me process my thoughts more clearly for myself, and I hope that I can contribute something to someone else in doing so.
Then we talked about my father’s death and the challenges I’d gone through; we both got a little teary. Then they said, you know, it’s so illuminating to read your posts. I think of you as this glamorous figure onstage, always calm and gracious, but you really have gone through so much. It makes me think of all of the things that we all keep hidden away, they said, and how much more there is to each of us than we could possibly imagine, and how much you’ve struggled to become the person you are.
And with those words, I suddenly felt understood.
It’s funny how writing can come around like that; the words that were borne of my own need to process led to someone else’s reflection, which led me to feel acknowledged and accepted for who I am. And that I’m not alone.
And this is why I write, and will continue to write.