“Why do you write?”
The writing prompt sat in my email inbox for a while. I looked at it and closed it. Looked at it again, and decided it was too hard to answer.
I’m not sure why I write. Some famous writer once said there was nothing to it. You just had to sit over your typewriter and bleed.
It’s true, there are moments of painful frustration as I sit in front of a blank screen and blinking cursor. But there are other times when stringing sentences together can be quite fun.
I think I write because it feels like time is moving lightning fast and I don’t want moments to disappear.
I often feel that one day I’ll blink and find myself old and frail, unsteady on my feet and lost to the world. All that will be left are stories of the past.
When I was little the minutes seemed like hours, the days seemed to stretch on and on. It felt like an eternity before my birthday rolled around and I was that little bit older.
I don’t know where all that time has gone.
Madonna famously quipped that since the birth of her daughter “I feel the fleetingness of time. And I don’t want to waste it on getting the perfect lip colour.”
I’m sure it was only yesterday we brought our newborn son back from the hospital. Only this morning when we said goodbye at the school gates as he boldly walked into his first day of school. Now he is starting high school, and we are talking about politics and the news. Tomorrow he’ll find his independence and leave us.
But it’s not just about preserving memories of my little family. I want to capture moments and people and God-given days before they fade away. These moments may not have meant much in the bigger scheme of things, but they mattered to somebody. They mattered to me.
I think I write because life can be hard. And we all need a little encouragement.
I work for an NGO. They do great work assisting people who are struggling on the margins. They build homes for the aged and the poor. They help people who have fled conflict and persecution in other lands settle into this country. They help thousands across a good portion of the state.
But we also see the desperation on a larger scale. And there are times when the world seems bleak and the problems immense.
Occasionally, through work or through the media, I come across people who haven’t given up. Ordinary people with a desire to help and the courage to act, trying to make this world a slightly better place in their own way. They’ve seen the problem, understand the fallen nature of this world, but they go ahead and do good anyway, making a difference where they can.
There was 87-year-old M. For more than 25 years she taught English to people new to this country. Lessons of care and friendship that crossed cultures and encouraged the heart. She still remembers her first student. Illiterate in her own language, let alone English, this student was desperate to learn so she could invite her next door neighbour over for a meal.
Then there was Cindy. A woman who survived the Pol Pot regime. Who fled her homeland and came to Australia via New Zealand and set up a social enterprise for Cambodian women.
There was also Danielle, a Yoga instructor, who once advised the Australian Prime Minister, using her skills to help people who have fled conflict and persecution recover from their trauma.
A poet, a fast food store owner, a local bookshop, a grassroots movement of people hosting dinners, a gift shop and cafe with a difference, just to name a few. So many remarkable people, having a go because they want to contribute to a better world.
They encourage me, and I want to remember their stories. I hope they encourage others too.
I think I write because I enjoy telling stories. I hope to get better at it.
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences,” Sylvia Plath once wrote.
Early on in my career, I was interviewing people and writing media releases like it were just another task — a means to publicity for the organisation I worked for. My boss took me aside and said I needed to take more care of how and what I write. These were people who were entrusting me with their stories and I needed to respect their trust and their experience. The comment stung at the time, but I am grateful for it.
It is because our stories matter. Grand or ordinary, our hard-won insights are valuable. Not because we are perfect. We’re far from it. But because I believe we are made in God’s image and loved anyway.
Wouldn’t it be great to string words into sentences so well that our lives and moments are captured with integrity?
So why do I write?
I don’t know.