Writing, or any creative endeavor, to some extent is a leap of faith and a huge personal risk. Faith that what you have to offer others will be worth the time it takes to read your work, and will add something of value to their lives. And the risk, of course, that you will fail in this attempt, that the work you take such pleasure in creating, and spend so much time and effort on, will not be read, or have the effect on the reader as you had hoped.
So why take that leap, that risk? Interestingly, I found some clues for why we write in an early draft of one of my short stories, “Tamara in Her Garden”. It’s because of where we are leaping and why. Here are those clues:
There is an old Taoist saying: Things are created out of their innermost intuition. I see myself that way, a creation of my own intuition. I pick and choose among the rubble of my life, the memory, dreams and fantasies that please or surprise, and so create myself. Not so much a thing of beauty but of bone and balance, voluptuously detailed and ever changing. I would not complete myself if I could.
Later on in the same story I write:
Justin thinks of this garden as my asylum . . . . A place of refuge where I sequester myself from reality. I do not see it as such. I see my garden as highly invigorating and precarious, teeming with raw necessity, a microcosm of all the life and beauty, decay and death, that ever was. I stand in my round garden as if standing upon the edge of a precipice, poised for flight. Not to escape, but to delve more deeply.
In some strange way, I am everything I have ever known. I am my father. And my Aunt Rose too.
When we write, it’s as if we are leaping off the edge of a precipice, of life as we live it on the surface, and diving into the unknown, into our innermost intuitions and the half-forgotten memories, dreams, and fantasies that please or surprise, haunt or terrorize us. In some ways, we are diving into the collective unconscious–everyone and everything we have ever known or heard of or read about going back to that time and space in reality or imagination where the morning stars first sang together.
We do it to ferret out and piece together our own song, a more complete and comprehensive understanding of ourselves, our world, and each other–to discover what’s missing, fill in the gaps, piece together what’s puzzling, bind what’s broken, complete what’s been left undone or unspoken, reclaim what’s been lost or forgotten. We do so to find and follow the threads that weave it all back into some meaningful whole. We do it even while knowing that nothing is ever really completed, but continually evolves. This open-endedness is what makes it all so highly invigorating and precarious. Seeking that “something more” . . . .
I imagine we read for the same reason we write, to delve more deeply into life, the known and unknown parts of ourselves and our world, seeking the “something more” that lies ever so tantalizingly just out of reach, and might perhaps be grasped or at least fingered ever so lightly and stirringly in the next book or poem or essay we read.
Emily Dickinson once wrote: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Franz Kafka said: “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? . . . . A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” That’s why I read, to experience that. And I write for the same reason.
Another excerpt from “Tamara in Her Garden”:
Sometimes I feel there is scant difference between a thing imagined and the actual event. In the passage of time, each is rendered mere memory, mere sensory image stored in the mind, anyway. What then separates the one from the other? All of one’s life, all of the long and homely details spun out across time are rolled up neatly, in the end, in one’s mind . . . . So what difference is there between an actual event that occurred with careless inattention and a thing imagined in meticulous detail? What is more concrete: the forgotten fact or the fiction seared forever in one’s mind?
Fiction that is “seared forever” in our minds is something that has deeply touched us, that rings true, and usually, in some important or moving way, adds to a deeper or more complete understanding of the world and each other. Fiction in this way is sometimes more real, truer, than fact. What poet Wallace Stevens called “the supreme fiction.”
Until I wrote this, I was not consciously aware that the garden “teeming with raw necessity” could be seen as a symbol for the ground, the environment, out of which the creative act emerges and healing takes place.
Perhaps that’s the simplest way to look at why we write and why we read, to heal what ails us, to make whole. Even when we write or read for entertainment or escape, to leave the drudgery or stress or ordinariness of our daily lives, to transport ourselves to some other more interesting or exciting world beyond ourselves and our immediate concerns, perhaps even this is an effort to heal what ails us, if only in bringing some enjoyment into our lives. For what’s more healing or soul-satisfying than the experiencing of joy?
This is why I make that leap of faith, take that risk, in writing, because regardless of the outcome, whether read or not, published or not, the act of writing itself, the pursuit of that “something more,” is so immensely enjoyable. And joy wants sharing.