It’s a question we’ve all been asked, probably more than once. Why do we write? You’d think the answer would be easy. We write because we love it. That’s what people expect to hear, perhaps for good reason. It makes us easier to categorise, to identify with.
For me it’s not always so simple. Like the colours of the cuttlefish, my reasons change depending on my current state of creative well-being. I always struggle to give a definitive answer, but I’m willing to give it go.
When I was six, my mother had her first nervous breakdown. Her ability to deal with the day-to-day was severely limited. Her moods could change between one moment and the next. She might laugh at a joke, only to immediately be reduced to tears at the cruelty of it. Yet in a real life crisis, she was always the one who could be counted on to act with a level head!
And she lived for family – at least when she was well.
As an adult I understand a lot more about her illness and how much of a struggle the everyday was for her. She latched onto my father, brother and I as a means to keep herself stable. In some ways we were her lifeline. Yet in order to feel secure, she became something of a martyr to her other needs. When she took up painting later in life she saw herself as a daubing novice whose work was worthless. Instead of gaining the emotional release she needed through painting, she chose never to pursue it, which to me is the biggest tragedy of her life – and one of mine too – as it was through her paintings that I learned something of the woman she was before her illness changed her.
It was during that sometimes confused, if still happy, childhood, that I first began to write. It was my way of venting my own emotions – emotions I was often careful to hide for fear of tipping my mother down the rabbit hole into depression. Those pages were my salvation in some ways.
I found a kind of cathartic release. But it was only after she passed away that I decided I didn’t want to get to the end of my own life without pursuing something I felt, on a spiritual level, defined me.
When my daughter came along, I became enamoured of her to the point that I lost myself to a certain degree. It’s a common thing and I don’t for one second regret any of it. But I reached a point at which a bout of my own depression hit. It wasn’t clinical and it didn’t stop me from functioning, but I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. I tried various activities, all of which I liked, but none of which lifted me out of my morass.
One day it hit me. I’d stopped writing. Sure, I’d done it before, several times, but never for more than a few months. This time it was more than seven years.
I’d turned into my mother without even realising it.
Okay, so it wasn’t that dramatic, and it embarrasses me to think that I didn’t see it earlier, but for all intents and purposes, I’d let my emotional outlet go in favour of family without a second thought.
I felt better as soon as I began to write again. That was almost five years ago and while I constantly battle guilt, fear and shame issues, I know that the added life experience has carried forward into my creative work and I’m a much happier, healthier person than I was when I first began.
That was the answer I used to give. I’d sometimes add that I’m driven to write the kind of stories I feel need to be told. Occasionally the listener appeared to understand. More often than not my answer was met with a maniacal eyebrow twitch, or involuntary curl of the lip.
Now, when I’m asked the inevitable question, I answer the way most of us do. The way I’m expected to answer: I write because I love it.
These days I find it’s not so far from the truth.