Anyone who has been with their writer lover/partner/friend at the moment an idea starts to take shape — watching us rudely pull out our phones mid-sentence during an important conversation or get up in the middle of a movie to go find a napkin to write on — they’re tasked with embracing, ignoring, or pushing back against that dissociative state as we search for any medium to record our thoughts.
Unrelenting until either we succeeded or failed to extract the thought from our heads. They will witness a birth or a death. Either relief and euphoria at having caught and caged the little mouse scurrying around our minds — or literal grief at the loss of something brilliant. All five stages, we suffer. And it can be so hard for our people to understand, so they hold our hand. Sometimes they get angry and yell in protest. But most know who they love.
Are we writers because we don’t trust our brains to hold all of the beautiful ideas that are swimming around in it? Because they feel bigger than we are…more important than we are. They’re not of us. They are better than us. When they break the surface, we have to rescue them or they will drown in the murky waters that exist behind our eyes and under our hair.
Other times it feels like a release — if I put it on paper, I don’t have to carry it around anymore. The weight is lifted and my burden is lighter. I can take that rock out of my backpack and set it down for a moment. There’s an ease…a resolution.
Here’s what I find the most beautiful and why I get lost in books for hours and hours. I see a soul. I see aura and patience and the color of brilliance. I see things hiding beneath the surface that aren’t accessible. I see scars. I see the pain that isn’t talked about and the love that wasn’t received and all the love that’s ready to give. And I feel connected.
No two people will write the same way because they don’t have access to the same words. They don’t have the same vocabularies or tools…they don’t have the same neural pathways that generate the same sentence structures. Every phrase communicated, those you don’t even think about, is a goddamn snowflake. Instead of, “Me too”, my autistic daughter says, “Same as I”. Mother fucking beautiful.
We all have a lockbox. A lexicon. A collection of words to which only we have access. Phrasings and location, particular to the individual that grow more intricate, complex, and unique with time. That box is filled with words acquired on one’s unique journey — words pulled and processed and stored from elementary school vocab lessons, from song lyrics out of CD covers when you were a teen, from a back-turned google search in the corner of a party after an intimidating conversation that you pretended to understand. Words you begrudge owning, from your SAT prep, that still have negative associations attached when you recall them, words from five-hour conversations at 3 am that felt like five minutes and how is the sun rising already? And from your mom’s friend who would always come over high, even though you didn’t know what “high” meant at the time. You knew she made you uncomfortable, but you also knew she said some really profound shit. You have a cache of insider industry jargon from the job you hate, but that gives you a sense of importance and status in your profession. And you have medical terminology from when your favorite uncle was diagnosed with stomach cancer and even more words from the tear-stained conversations you had trying to figure out how to let him go.
Some words came with the box, some were stuffed in there against your will, and some were extracted from the world around you and cradled and bathed and stored in the top drawer for special occasions.
Words themselves have tribes. Families.
“Ephemeral” is my most recent crush. It was pulled, atrophied, from the back of my brain, dusted off, and given a special shelf recently when I read it in a book and was moved by the author’s usage. It’s the love child of “ethereal” and “fleeting”. “Ethereal”, cousin of “empyreal”, step-sister to “celestial”, and niece of “seraphic”. That book’s author changed my writing.
Our writing is not just shaped by who we are, it is who we are. It is our memories and our experiences … each and every casually or carefully chosen word is a connection.
Even now, in this moment, there’s a word I can’t bring forth and it’s giving me a headache. I’ve scoured my preferred thesaurus sites … I can’t access it. It’s locked. But I know it will come to me at an inopportune time, maybe during sex, when my brain is free to operate unconstrained, and I will have to interrupt one lover to satisfy the other.
A piece I write in a coffee shop in Beijing where I, a woman who doesn’t speak Mandarin, somehow just managed to order coffee from a man who doesn’t speak English, ironically — word-less-ly — that piece will have a different tenor than one written on my laptop while sitting on my couch while my daughters enjoy a Friday off of school and I get interrupted for the 50th time. And those will both be different than the one I write when I sneak naked out of my lover’s bed at 2 am and sit cross-legged on the living room couch to commune with the stillness of the night and my sated body…and my thoughts. They are all different, yet exist in the same piece.
Reading back is crushing or euphoric. It’s talking to myself from yesterday, incredulous at how I could be so redundant…or so fucking beautiful. I’m a momentary imposter in hopeless, unrelenting love with my primary… my words. High in the moment for all the love I have given, I am getting love back.