Why Writing Matters

            [This post updated July 24, 2022]

During the pandemic in December 2020, just around the time I realized I was going to be celebrating my seventy-sixth birthday, I decided to turn being shut-in and locked-down into something positive and constructive: I started to write again.  I mean, to write seriously. It was something I wanted to do from around age twenty.  It was something I had decided—by age twenty-one and graduating from college—was not possible to do.  I needed to pay rent and eat.  “Writing” was not a career but an avocation. It would have to wait.

            I became, quite by accident rather than design, a teacher, specifically a college English teacher. It was, in fact, a perfect fit for me, as if I’d prepared for it.  It was exhilarating to share knowledge. More, the preparation (which involved a good deal of study and research) made me a part-time “scholar,” and I truly loved this aspect of pedagogy.

            My writing wasn’t forgotten, but it took a modest place in my life. I did all my writing in my spare time and in the most private of places, a journal. In my student days, I would often type my fiction and poetry onto sheets of paper, as if preparing a manuscript for presentation. It was a process that required time and attention: compose a work in a journal, transfer it, via typing, to 8×11 paper, and in the transfer, edit, rebuild, reconsider the work. Then, if satisfied, place the work proudly in a folder. The folder never “went’ anywhere; it was simply the physical manifestation of my creative work. The idea that I was (or, could be) a writer had been encouraged by professors who saw in my writing “great potential” which, they warned, needed “discipline.” I was flattered and heedless; in other words, I was young.

            After teaching, marriage, a child, writing seemed less important to maintain; it seemed, in fact, a luxury when considering the time that was required to teach, to be a wife, to be a mother. In addition, teaching absolutely required more academics from me; I had to add to my responsibilities a full graduate program. I won’t say I ever resented it; I never stopped loving being a student.  And this involved writing papers for classes, a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation—writing that had no relationship to the writing I once loved: short fiction and poetry.

            Back to the recent past. At the end of 2020, I discovered on a shelf in a closet a large box of journals. They spanned a period from 1963 to about 2018. Around 1969 or 1970, the journal entries were sporadic at best, mostly brief, and sometimes more like diary entries. From 2016 to 2018 or so, a tragedy in my life—the death of my only child—drove me back to writing, but this time as catharsis. Writing words, creating sentences, shaping a piece into a poem, were all acts of self-survival: I could live with this crushing grief as long as I could somehow harness it into creative expression. It was sometimes as if putting the expression of grief onto paper somehow separated it from me, allowed me to live momentarily free of its terror and anguish. In that period, writing was salvation.

            That box of journals was a curiosity to the seventy-six year old me.  Who had I been through all those years? My first instinct was to find a way to utterly destroy the box; simply throwing it away wouldn’t do. Trying to shred those thousands of pages required tiresome hours. Burning them seemed the only solution, but I didn’t have a furnace and, where I lived, burning anything outside (even leaves) was verboten. I had no solution, so I decided to simply sit down and read the journals.

            It took me a good number of days to get through them. The most prolific period of writing took place during my college years. It was clear that the encouragement and urging of professors to “write because you have talent” contributed mightily to my devotion to those journals. They were, as expected, accounts of what was happening to me, but much more—they were attempts to analyze, synthesize, comprehend, and understand the significance of those experiences. Before I’d finished looking through those journals, I had subconsciously decided: I am a writer, and like a prodigal wanderer, I had finally arrived where I’d started.

            So fully inspired by this “revelation,” I wrote a seven-hundred-page novel in three months.  Now, almost a year and three revisions later, the novel has been made into a manageable three-hundred-plus pages and is undergoing its fourth revision. It may see a “finished” state by early next year. In addition, I have returned to the kind of writing that is my first love, poetry. I write, I revise, I write, I polish, I listen, I revise, etc. It isn’t a process that ever stops; it only improves.  And I wonder, why did I have to wait to be in my seventies to be brave enough to submit my writing to the publishing process? I’m certainly most modest than I was at twenty, and a lot less worried about “what people will think.” Disappointments shape a good part of our lives; they generally hurt less as we get older. Nevertheless, a submission accepted for publication is still a matter for celebration and gratitude that someone has understood how I feel or has felt exactly the same way.

            Poetry that has been published or accepted for publication (this list is updated periodically):

Published or accepted (printed poems are not available online)

  • “Cutting Back” and “Warnings” in

https://ojalart.com/poetry-all-forms-stylessandra-newtonwarnings/ https://ojalart.com/poetry-all-forms-stylessandra-newtoncutting-back/

https://thewoolfx.com/bastille-day-2021/

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