“You don’t write anymore? What do you mean, you don’t write?”
“I write, dude, jeez. I just don’t, y’know… Publish anymore.”
“Why not? That’s what you’re known for. That’s like, your career.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“No, not just ‘yeah, I guess’. You’re one of the few Stocktonians who’s actually out there making something of herself — you’re fuckin’ smart. Do something with it.”
“I don’t know what I want to do anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Just write. That’s what you’re good at. It doesn’t matter what you write about. Just write.”
“Just write …”
I remember the days when I could “just write”, and when spilling my thoughts out publicly meant baring my soul for the world and not caring about what I heard back or who might judge me. People used to call me “brave” (they still do, on occasion). Emails would flood in from young women across the world asking for advice and praising me for my courage (and still do, again on occasion).
And I just stopped, I guess.
I stopped writing for a while for reasons too personal to explain.
And even if I did reveal exactly what those reasons were, you would think I was crazy. You’d say, “Really? That’s what’s stopping you?” And I just know you’d be first in line to slap me for allowing something so ridiculous to control my life, to keep me from expressing myself, and to stop me from enjoying the one gift that never seems to fail me.
So while I won’t reveal exactly what’s kept me from writing all this time, I’m just going to assume you’re a smart enough cookie to sort of figure that one out for yourself.
Does it matter?
Breaking the Habit
Before, I often wrote that the act of writing itself has always been therapeutic. Whenever things felt overwhelming, whenever my life seemed to be going astray, and whenever something new or fascinating happened, I had to write it down. Small adventures in my life turned into epic stories I needed to tell. I was obsessed with creative documentation. Video blogs, cutting together entertaining home movies meant to be enjoyed by an audience, script writing, storytelling, poetry, art — I did it all.
But for the past few months, I’ve been very purposefully avoiding public creative expression.
I wanted writing to be for me again.
I started small.
To cure myself of the writing itch, I first began by shutting off my laptop, breaking out a moleskine journal, and releasing everything with a pen. And while I’ve always journaled and kept handwritten notes on my life, very purposefully and knowingly restricting my writing to a medium only I could see was strangely liberating.
My hopes, my dreams, and my frustrations laid bare — I could see the emotion in my pen strokes, feel the anger on pages where there was nothing but a hastily scratched or jagged squiggle, smile along with paragraphs smothered in tiny and inked little hearts — the exercise freed me from feeling as though I only have one outlet when the truth is, I have many. It was as if I had given myself permission to try new and better things: working out, studying nutrition, embracing my friendships more without the paranoia that my inner circle would know every single dark and ridiculous thought in my head — I felt “unleashed”.
But in the back of my head, there was also this nagging paranoia. I’d ask myself questions like: will I lose my ability to write if I don’t continue doing it? If I just stop, will I suddenly stink? Do I already stink? How will I know if I don’t continue to write?
Can Writing Be Unhealthy?
Trauma and pain sweeps over all of us in the most unexpected times. It’s never, “Hey, pain! So good to see you again!” It’s always, “Why me?! Why is this happening to me?!” And while these moments are, thankfully, very rare for me (I tend to avoid negativity as much as possible), pain does have a way of sneaking up on me just as it has for everyone else.
Writing and creativity used to be my main form of dealing with and handling these stressful situations. For some reason, nothing felt more satisfying than laying out every detail. It was as if pointing out the flaws in my life somehow made them disappear, and as if by immortalizing my fear and frustration through writing, I was giving myself permission to forget it all.
But is that healthy?
Was writing truly making me happy?
And do all creative types ask themselves these questions, or is it just me?
Something you should know about me if you don’t by now: I challenge myself often. I ask myself, “Are you happy with what you’re doing right now?” I look at my life, weigh things out in my hands and think, “What am I doing that I shouldn’t be doing? What should I be doing instead?”
With writing being my main sort of “activity”, I began to blame it for causing unnecessary stress in my life. What else could it be, I thought? It’s all I ever do, I’d say. Writing had become my crux to the point where if I didn’t leave my apartment with at least a pen and paper or at least my phone to take notes on, I would feel as if I had been pulled away from a drug.
Do you even understand that?
Do you understand how critical writing has been to nearly everything I’ve done?
Do you realize how deeply my writing has affected me both positively and negatively?
I have been publishing to an audience since I was around 14 years old — that sort of activity has to change a person in some way, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s been great for my career, but I doubt it’s normal (whatever “normal” is).
Besides, I don’t want to be just a writer. I want to be a person who experiences things and derives pleasure from everything in life, not just what I can eventually say about it.
I guess, mostly, I just want to know if Ernest Hemingway was right in that, “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it.”
What Do I Think I Need but Don’t?
If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you’ll recall several times where I’ve become obsessed with self-discipline, restricting myself from some of my more risqué lifestyle habits and conducting experiments on both myself and my body in order to simply experience the outcome, good or bad. I want to understand myself inside and out.
I’ll provide an example other than writing.
Some of you already know about my decision to completely eliminate alcohol from my life (though the possibility of drinking again sometime in the future still exists). Don’t get me wrong — drinking can be fantastic! But uh, I’ve realized that it’s not something I need at all. Sure, it was fun for a while — “Woo!” and all that, right? “YOLO!” or something equally obnoxious.
But I’m 25 years old.
I’m young. I’m healthy. I’m happy.
And I just don’t need it.
Like, at all.
In fact, alcohol, in no way, contributes to anything I want to do with the rest of my life.
I feel stupid and pathetic for thinking something was “so cool” just because the crowd adored it.
Everyone drinks, so it must be normal, right?
Everyone goes out after work to happy hour, so I should too, right?
Pardon my french, but uh, fuck that.
There’s this great comedian, Greg Giraldo (R.I.P.), who joked about how young people are wasting their lives drinking and doing drugs. Realistically, what do we have to complain about, he asks? Giraldo advises we save our livers and bodies until we’re 50 years old and need drugs and alcohol because we have real problems to deal with. He says everything we’re worrying over now — boohoo, my boyfriend dumped me, or boohoo, my coworkers don’t like me — those aren’t real problems. The real problems come with age when your wife leaves you with 3 kids, you can’t pay your mortgage, your body is falling apart because you haven’t been taking care of it — those are real problems.
However morbidly amusing Giraldo’s joke may have been, it’s also very true.
I look back at some of my earlier work (my writing, that is) and facepalm over what I thought were problems. I think, that’s what I was worried about? Those were my big troubles? What was I thinking?!
God I was (and still am in some ways) stupid.
One of my roomies vehemently disagrees with Greg Giraldo, by the way, and argues that problems are problems regardless of the circumstances, and to categorize our stresses in order of severity diminishes our sense of value and worth — we have the right to do as we please, be stressed over what we want to be stressed over, and be happy regardless of existing conditions.
She’s probably right.
Reigning In My Vices
When it comes to writing as a vice, it’s not that it’s something I need in my life (just like I don’t need alcohol). But it’s certainly something that can do just as much good for me as bad, and it’s something that defines me whether I like it or not. To completely push writing from my life as if it’s this demonic thing — how stupid would I be not to utilize a talent that not everyone has? How moronic would I be to leave behind a part of me that’s existed since I held my first Sanrio diary and fell in love with empty pages?
Writing is a vice I should never have given up.
Anyone can drink.
Anyone can do drugs.
But can everyone write?
Furthermore, can just anyone write well?
… Do I even write well?
Regardless of whether I do or do not, why is it that when I write, it’s always to solve or share some sort of life struggle? When do the lessons on life stop? When will I just know what to do? Will I always have questions, and am I the only one? Do other people struggle through wondering if they’re finally “normal” as well? Will there ever come a point in time where I’ve learned everything I need to learn, and therefore, never feel the need to share anything through my writing? Can I just stop now and be?
I Was Out With a Friend …
“Your writing’s different, Cheri. You make people feel something. You can’t give up on something like that.” She’s saying this while sort of dancing, bobbing, and swaying. XX is on stage making love to the crowd and I realize, pausing, that I’ve been dancing the whole time too. Is this really happening right now? Am I seriously on stage, VIP at a music festival?
The paragraph you just read — I wrote that on October 15th and never finished because, if you recall, existing circumstances made me rethink my decision to write something publicly ever again.
Here is part of an entry I wrote on August 21st that I also never published publicly:
There was a time in my life when I lived without a filter on my filthy little mouth. I didn’t care how “bad” I sounded. I just really gave no fucks.
Looking back at my idiocy — my mindset, environment, and situations at the time — I think, “Man, that was fucking crazy.” A big part of me dares to even celebrate my rebellious youth. Can you believe it?
The girl I am today that’s about to turn twenty five, however, cannot help but facepalm.
Have I really grown up so vulgar and ill-disciplined? My inexperience with “controlling myself” has been incredibly sub par. I’ve made some of the most ridiculously inexcusable and ignorant choices in my youth that the mere thought of them infuriates me.
But, as they say, you live and you learn. The choices you make, you must own, or you will never be at peace with yourself.
I will say that as unbearable as my life has been at times, I have always enjoyed a single form of expression:
So, you see, I have always written. I have been writing. I write in my diaries. I write on my 1963 Remington Monarch typewriter. I handwrite letters to my loved ones, pass notes among my friends, scrawl words of inspiration on my whiteboard and annotate my favorite novels — I write constantly.
I’m just, I dunno.
I’m Caught Up in Subject Matter
I think a lot of my hangups with writing (lately, anyway, as these hangups come in phases and waves) have developed from the idea that what I write about isn’t restricted to a niche. I think most modern online writers have a “theme”, y’know? Like, I dunno — traveling or something. Or politics. Or tech. Or video games. Or fashion. Or, what, uh, cooking? Mommy bloggers talking about their babies? Y’know. All that stuff. They think, “Oh, my baby took his first step today — let’s talk about how amazing that was!”
But for me, I’m a lifestyle writer. I am so accustomed to writing about anything and everything that every situation almost becomes work for me. And because of that, because I’ve effectively trained my mind to observe and document, I …
Oh, what’s the use.
I Should Just Write to Write
It doesn’t matter what I write about, does it?
It doesn’t matter what the subject is.
It doesn’t matter how personal it is (within reason).
All that matters is that I continue to do something I hold personal and dear.
All that matters is that I continue to do what I personally feel I am good at.
All that matters is that I continue to pursue that which has brought me happiness throughout the course of my life, and stick by it with conviction whenever some naysayer deems the act of it strange or out of the ordinary.
Isn’t that what makes me me to begin with?
Should I really care how I appear to others if, in the end, I’m going to die and be buried in a box anyway with only my writing and relationships with other people to leave behind as a symbol of the life I’ve lived, the person I was, and the things I’ve accomplished? Shouldn’t I just live my life as fully as possible and allow my unique experiences and character quirks to embody me in a way that turns its nose up at the idea of “normal”? Why the hell not, right?
Solving Inner Conflict
My greatest struggle has always been with myself. Yes, pleasing others is something I’ve struggled with as well, but at the end of the day, what I write doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to me. At the end of the day, I am the person who lives with my decisions and I get to decide if I’m happy with them or not.
Can people change their minds? Can a writer say, “I hate writing. Forget it!” Then, months later, pick up a pen and realize they were wrong? Can someone quit drinking, then a few months later say, “Well, a cocktail right now just sounds like a fine idea!” Can I suddenly pack my bags, sublet my apartment and vacation in London for four months while meeting new people and traveling? (This was a question actually posed to me by an interviewer recently, by the way — and the answer is yes! That sounds like an adventure worth taking.)
I think that to overanalyze life to the point where every decision you make requires deep thought detracts from the point of living. Or maybe it doesn’t, and maybe understanding the core reasons behind why we do what we do makes life that much better and more interesting?
Who cares? :)
At the end of the day, I realize that all of these questions I ask myself ultimately end in decisions. While it’s good to understand myself, good to understand possibilities, and interesting to imagine the future, at the end of the day, all you can really do is decide. The anxiety of wondering what if and living in the peripherals rather than focusing on what’s right in front of you — it’s not worth the additional stress (maybe?).
Life is full of enough bullshit as it is.
Just do what you want to do, and don’t worry about it.
Make decisions, and if you don’t like what you’ve done, make a better decision later.
And uh, y’know.
The smiling facepalm,
Sherilynn “Cheri” Macale
PS. I’m shutting down comments on my blog forever (or for now) as inspired to do so by the great Matt Inman. Don’t worry — you’ve still got Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else you feel like leaving your critiques.