Ever since twitter allowed us to pin tweets on our profile, I had this pinned:
Back then when I was working at Medium, people had a phase when they all wanted to write like Hemingway. I thought he sounded constipated, and I very much preferred to write long, never-ending sentences that span fifty lines. So I wrote the above tweet in rebellion.
Many people who desire to write often think they need to be good writers before they can start writing, or people who are regular writers think they need to be in a constant evolution to better writing, whatever better means. I personally think it is better to write than not, and I think whatever is considered better writing needs to be married with a search for our own voice. Some people really hate long sentences yet they often make me stop breathing as my mind wandered along with their singalong rhythm. That is my kind of beauty, and I think we need to write words that make our own hearts sing. Not everyone has to be a professional writer, and in the grand scheme of things I think expressing ourselves in the written form is beautiful and important even if the words are not strung together well traditionally.
Well, we’re taught — particularly, in elementary school — to learn a standardized language. And when you ask, why is it this way, why is this the standard, you arrive at a very arbitrary answer, and an answer which actually excludes, often, people of color. “Your English is wrong. This English is right.” But, in fact, language is always changing. And I think it’s the poets, the writers, and even the youth — they’re using language to cast new meaning, in the same way Chaucer just winged English spelling. There was no standardized spelling.Ocean Vuong, Onbeing
I read Ocean Vuong’s novel, “On earth we are briefly gorgeous” after listening to the above podcast. I mean, the title itself is gorgeous. He is a poet first, and the prose shows:
It was everything I hid from, everything that made me want to be a sun, the only thing I knew that had no shadow. And yet, I stayed. I let the mirror hold those flaws—because for once, drying, they were not wrong to me but something that was wanted, that was sought and found among a landscape as enormous as the one I had been lost in all this time. Because the thing about beauty is that it’s only beautiful outside of itself.
I read the entire novel in a sitting, and thereafter I tried to find out everything I can about Vuong online. What came out of my reading experience wasn’t just appreciation of his writing, but also a sort of provoking mirroring effect – I thought to myself: wow this is what it means to write as oneself, to write so deeply into yourself that people can feel your bones just by reading your words.
I feel like I was writing that way before (I don’t mean I ever wrote as well, but the ability to write until your bones are showing), during rare phases of my life when I was a lot less self-conscious about what is displayed to the public, but somehow along the way I got lost.
It turns out writing as oneself is not as simple as the willingness to be honest. It is about – as I find the right words to describe this – the capacity to truly undress yourself, carve deeply inside yourself even, till you see the bones. It is not just an act of sheer courage, the willingness to expose one’s vulnerability, it is about developing the psychological capacity to transverse deeply into our inner worlds. We think we are being honest, but no there are always more and more layers, more subconscious desires, more colorings, more textures – things we would not have discovered ourselves if we didn’t take the time and effort to know ourselves. It is a psychological skill, a form of deep meditation, an inwards journey that will take years if not decades.
Then, once we get there, once we are able to travel there, then – we do the necessary still difficult work required to find the right words.
Finally, it is the willingness to show the world our shame, our guilt, our illogical yet human ramblings, our wounds, the way we take joy and sometimes stupidly give it away, the experiences that break us and yet make us whole, the edges of our selves that are protruding and yet makes us, us.
It is a sort of shepherding, a form of protection, because if we even let the noise, the external gaze to creep in a little, we lose ourselves, our content. What ends up getting published is a diluted bundle of words that is palatable but not truly us.
Committing to one’s own truth, is an ongoing long-term exercise. It is a muscle that needs to be worked constantly. Once we stop paying attention to it, once we become complacent and lose our vigilance, it atrophies. Presenting ourselves with a million layers on top of our actual selves is the default state.
It is not easy, to even think of our deepest selves as worth excavating and shepherding. That in itself is a lifetime’s practice. I can only continue to keep journeying.
Why I write (2013)
what it means to write myself into life1 responses