Sometimes I wonder what purpose there is to what I do. I mean, writing doesn’t exactly keep me fit, put food on the table at a reasonable hour, keep the house tidy, walk the dogs, or do much of anything else obviously useful. Sometimes my writing even alienates people. If I hold an opinion and write about it, I’m bound to insult, inflame, or otherwise upset at least one person. All I can do is hope that person isn’t another writer with a bigger audience than I have. Writing sometimes feels like an intangible commodity, and one that has perhaps less respect today than it did a decade ago.
With a worldwide increase in literacy, access to the internet on a variety of devices, and free publishing tools anyone can use, it’s no surprise that writing has boomed, or perhaps blossomed, more exponentially in the past decade than it has since the invention of the printing press. Humans need to communicate; it’s in our nature to do so. Solitary confinement tends to drive us insane, no matter how gently its administered.
Sometimes communicating isn’t easy. There are times you want to convey something but it comes out all wrong, no matter how perfectly concise it sounded right before you moved the words from your brain to your mouth. Sometimes the words that do come out sting in ways you didn’t anticipate. Sometimes the sting is intentional, but the fallout is worse than you’d planned on. Sometimes a difficult line of communication results in communication shut down, and solitary confinement. Sometimes that solitary confinement occurs in a crowd of strangers, almost any of whom you wish would speak to you, just to break your own silence.
And then there are times when you heed the gentle insisting of your friends to reopen lines of communication and untangle the web of silence. That is especially difficult for me. Silence was a form of control in my childhood experience, used against me in ways that lodged firmly in my mind. When you are angry with someone’s words you can either tell them to be silent, or silence yourself. I watched this dynamic with my family and across generation lines. My father would walk away from my mother’s angry words. My mother would talk circles around his. My grandmother held a silent grudge against her sister for 40 years. My own sister would shut me out from her world by refusing to speak to me. I would talk my heart out to express fear, anxiety, or longing. I still do.
I know how to hurt with words. It isn’t that I want to, but it is something I learned early on as a defense mechanism. I can speak a poniard, a knife, a scalpel. I can find the tender miseries hidden inside, cut them out and hold them up to the light. Living with my ex husband taught me how to hone this gift even more than my family had. These days I prefer to use my powers for good, by writing catchy ad copy, uplifting interviews, and utilitarian reviews, but the razor-mind is still there, carefully sheathed.
I don’t apologize for what I said Sunday night to hurt the man I love. He needed to hear it, even though he hates me for it. I don’t expect him to apologize for what he said to me, either, although I want him to. I needed to be jarred back into a less subtle state. I work better under pressure, and thanks to his words, I’ve found myself falling back into a survival mode I haven’t been in for quite a while. It’s productive, but lonelier than my lax mode. I’m back to carrying necessities with me, keeping lines of communication open with some, closed with others. I went from wearing a comfortable, sloppy, bright red sweater all week, to wearing a gray coat with many pockets, something to allow me anonymity in a crowd and access to whatever I need while I’m away from the house I don’t feel welcome in. I don’t even take it off when I’m in the house, just in case I need to leave the silence within and find a quieter solitude outside.
Writing keeps me sane. It’s saying the wrong thing that worries me.