Writing is a Hopeful Act
July 26, 2011 12 Comments
Writing is a hopeful act. Words assume that someone will read them, even if that someone is an older version of the person who put pen to paper in the first place. Often we write to our future selves. What else is the purpose of a journal? Sure, we’re conversing with ourselves in the present. But most of us write with the intention eventually of reading what we’ve written. We want to know who we were when we were younger, so we record our thoughts as artifacts of our younger years to be excavated when we’re ready. Despite the clarity of our thinking in the moment of writing, the words of our younger selves sometimes make no sense, and as with any excavation, we often are forced to guess at how the pieces of our younger selves fit together. Sometimes we don’t recognize the person we were. He is an alien to us. He was meaner, more arrogant, maybe a little smarter, less jaded, more wide-eyed.
I steal often from my younger self. He had ideas that would never occur to me now that I’m older and more set in my ways. He had an open mind. Mine is somewhat closed. If things don’t interest me right away, I’m more likely now to give up on them than when I was younger. Because I assume too often now that whatever seems new is really a dressed up version of something old. Which is to say that I’m suspicious of everything. Suspicion, taken too far, stifles thought and creativity. Suspicion shuts the brain down.
My younger self recorded his ideas expressly so that older versions of him would be able to draw on them for inspiration. So he has no right to become angry at me now for lifting his ideas. I’m doing what he and I agreed to do. We’re fulfilling our bargain. But it’s still theft of a sort. He and I share a name, but we aren’t the same person. I’m not sure it would occur to me to write now what he wrote then. He didn’t care that his thoughts were random and would impact no one, maybe not even himself. It didn’t matter. He had yet to feel that every action and every statement required an explicit purpose, a practical application, preferably one to which money was tied. He just wanted to think, and that was enough. Someone who shares my name but who was ten years younger wrote the following words:
A: What do you think of as you fall asleep?
B: I think about all the tasks I have to do the next day and I worry over those that I had to do that day. Sometimes I preoccupy myself over weighing too much. Other times, I wonder how I’ve performed in the eyes of my peers and I stress over the impressions I’ve made. More than anything, I get frustrated over how I can never get to sleep. What do you think about?
A: Some of the same. But I also spend a lot of time thinking about the distant past: people I’ve known, places I’ve been, occasions that I enjoyed. . . I wonder where those people are and how those places have changed with time. I think of the distant future as well and long for a time when I’m older and life’s experiences have made me wiser. Often I review the day that’s coming to an end. I ask myself if I treated people with love and respect. I note instances when my anger got the better of me or when I said the wrong thing and I vow never to make those same mistakes again. I contemplate a book that I’ve been reading, toss ideas around in my head, imagine what’s happening in other parts of the world to people I’ll never know. I dwell on the incessant pain in my back and neck, but then I remind myself that hundreds of millions of people have it worse. Finally, I try every night to remember that it’s a beautiful world that we live in. . . Oh, and I also get frustrated over how I can never get to sleep.