On the 30th and last day, I’m grateful for you. Yes, you, who is reading this post.
A long time ago, I knew a poet. Like, a real poet. She is published these days, and went to school and got her MFA at a famous university and introduced me to Phillip Larkin and Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. But this was before all that.
We had similar, blue collar roots, but she had just a bit more direction and management than I did, and even though she was much younger than I was, and even though when I knew her she was living in genteel poverty and making minimum wage, I aspired to her life. We shared books, and stories, and walks along the Mississippi river on Saturday afternoons.
At this point in my life, I had written nothing in a decade, since a horrible encounter with an English professor that tried to squash my dreams. But I remembered the joy that came from sitting down and opening yourself up to the universe- the ancient magic that happens when you show up, ready to write, and the universe gives you the words.
One day, looking over the river, I asked her, “Why do you write?”
I have heard many people try to answer this question. Often they say something about how they can’t avoid writing, or they have to write, or something like that. But her answer stuck with me, and has rung true for me.
She turned her back to me and walked a few steps away, looking down at the ground, hands in her pockets. Then she turned around. “Why? Because I want to be understood. I’ve never made sense to any of the people who knew me – not even to the people who thought they loved me. I write because I want someone to read it and understand who I am. I write, Hugh, because I want to be known.”
Instantly, I knew the truth, and like the old story goes, the truth set me free.
I too write because I want to be known. Because I have never made much sense to the people who know me or love me, and I want them to understand. I write because I have stories that have shaped me and changed me, and I’m conceited enough to believe that if you knew them, they may change you, too.
There are people who write in a journal, with instructions that it be burned after their death. They are an audience of one, and they write as a way of understanding themselves. But it is not lost on me that it took the invention of blogging to get me over my self-imposed writing embargo. It wasn’t enough for me to have the means – I also required a reader.
Often when I write, I imagine a particular person reading it, and I write it as a personal communication to them. I have six ideal readers, all actual people, even though none of them know, and two of them are now dead. But when I write, I write it to one of them.
For more than 18 years now, I’ve been writing down my stories, my ideas, my discoveries, sharing them in various places. It’s like we’ve been on a journey together, you and me, and I’m sharing what I learned along the way. And sometimes you are going someplace I have been before, and I know where the pitfalls are, and might be able to save you some steps.
I’m constantly amazed that anyone cares at all about what I have to say. Every time something I write travels at all, it is a shock. People often will reach out and tell me how something I wrote a decade or more ago changed their life. That never ceases to move me, and to remind me of the importance of story.
At the end of the day, dear reader, I’m just a working class kid from rural Mississippi who realized one day that the things he felt and that seemed so huge were things we all feel, and we are all just searching for language for those things. The highest compliment someone can ever give me is when they read something I write, and they say, “This is how I feel too, but I didn’t know how to say it.”
Because in that moment, they know more about me, yes, but feel known, too. They know then that they the things in their head and hearts are not worthless or pointless or known only by them, but are human things, and they feel a little less alone, a little bit more understood, a little bit more emboldened to share their own stories, and a little less shame, perhaps, over the late night fears that greet them in dark places.
In other words, I write because I want to be read, and what’s more, I want to know you and be known by you. And for almost 20 years, you have kept showing up: Reading, sharing, interacting, telling me your stories in response. You are the most important part of this operation, and I couldn’t do any of it without you. You make my life more than I ever dreamt possible, and I’m grateful for you beyond words.