By Robert Ross
“The role of a
writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
— Ana´s Nin, American author
On October 20, 2013, The National Council of Teachers of
English will be holding the fourth annual National Day on writing.
According to the NCTE website, this annual day is set aside to celebrate
composition in all its forms, encourage diverse participants — students,
teachers, parents, grandparents, service and industrial workers, managers,
business owners, legislators, retirees, and many more to celebrate writing in
all its forms.
To the question, why write? Some of last year’s participants
penned: “Because I am a spider and words are my silk.” And, “To get 10 years
worth of stories out of my head.” One person wrote, “Because I sound smarter
when I write than when I speak.” Another “Because saying words is nice, but
writing them down lasts longer.” And, “Because I’m in love.” Or, “To think, to
converse, to express, to solve, to explain, to persuade, to motivate, to...” There
are as many reasons to write as there are reasons to speak, to laugh, to cry,
Decartes’ famous quote: “I think, therefore I am,” could
easily be restated, or in this case, rewritten to: “I write, therefore I am.”
In all of us is the desire, the drive, and the need to express ourselves. It’s
in our DNA. For some, that need to express, to share, comes out through
Writers are a special breed for they live multiple times. In
her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg penned: “Writers live twice.
They go along with their regular lives, are as fast as anyone in the grocery
store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there
Is another part of them they have been training. The one that lives everything
a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks
at the texture and the details.”
Why I Write
Growing up in a house of seven was challenging for me. I was
one of 5 children, in the middle, more introverted than extroverted. Life, as
far back as I can remember, was an ongoing challenge to find peace and quiet,
to reflect, to be me. However, there were the continual admonishments from
parents, older siblings and teachers: “You shouldn’t say that.” “That’s not
nice.” Be this way. Be that way. Do this. Do that. Stand. Sit. Be quiet. Go.
Stop. And one I heard more than a few times: “Go to the principal’s office!” I
was emotionally pummeled from all sides, and didn’t know it, surviving this
onslaught by going inwards, not sharing and, shutting down.
It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I discovered writing. I
could write something without an older sister or a parent telling me what I
should or should not say. It was a newfound freedom. My introspective thoughts
put on paper, examined, rearranged to find my truth. A relationship, an
experience, a feeling, a lover, was now fuel for pen and paper. So I wrote... and
wrote... and wrote... and wrote — poems, prose, and scribblings. Mostly
unshared writings, but it didn’t matter, they were my thoughts, mine alone. I
felt like a child learning to walk; exploring the landscape of the heart, the
depth of the soul, through writing.
The Berkeley Free Press published my first article in 1974,
about working with the migrant farm workers in Oregon. It was exhilarating to
see my thoughts in a Bay area newspaper. The stilted, shy, repressed kid of the
past was now able to speak, to say what was on his mind, to share, through
Writing was my way of communicating with the outside world.
In the mid 90’s, the angels of writing smiled down on me. I landed a steady
assignment as a columnist for Awareness Magazine. I could now do, on an ongoing
basis, what writers do: write, relive, explain, learn, and reexamine life’s
experiences. And most important, I could declare, on paper, in words, in my
words: hey, this is me!
And so I wrote with a focus and purpose. I wrote about trips
and observations and current events. I wrote about 9-11, the financial crisis,
the war in Iraq opened the doors to my personal life and wrote about painful
events, the death of my father and the day cancer showed up on our doorstep.
The cancer piece was the most difficult I had ever written.
My wife, Ingrid, had a 7-centimeter sarcoma tumor. The news of the cancer began
as a light rain, but quickly turned into a tsunami that crashed its way into my
home leveling every sense of normalcy in its path. Uninvited, hell had arrived.
Eventually, after the surgeries and radiation, I picked up
the pen to relive and re-examine the process, again feeling the helplessness
while watching her go through some very painful days. Reliving the afternoon
and evening of the first surgery. Reflecting on the act of praying, even though
I wasn’t affiliated with any religion and had never prayed a day in my life.
The writing brought it all back; the emotions, raw, and at times overwhelming.
But, ‘looking at the texture, the details,’ also revealed
some silver linings to the cancer experience; the flowers on the doorstep from
caring friends, food dropped off to bring comfort, the get-well cards, and the
concern from family members. People cared. Cancer involves more than one. The
title of the column: When Cancer Knocks, Everyone Answers.
I don’t know where this writing life is going. My friends,
paper and pen, will be with me though. I’ll push the envelope a bit, look for
new ways to say the same old things, peel off an emotional layer or two,
perhaps explore new forms of writing. And, I’ll keep Franz Kafka’s thoughts on
writing always in mind: “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it
logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your
most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
October 20, 2013, is the National Day on Writing; a day to
reflect, and ask: why write?
Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at: SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com
2013 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved