Writing is a Hopeful Act

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.

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About atomsofthought
Teacher. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

12 Responses to Writing is a Hopeful Act

  1. “Writing is a hopeful act” – very true. And meaningful to me at this moment when I can’t seem to spill out what’s in my head.

    “He didn’t care that his thoughts were random and would impact no one…” – yes, this is harder now! Don’t we want to impress or at least sound good? (Speaking for myself, of course, but I always worry if I’m making a fool of myself on my blog.) Don’t we want to make an impact of some kind, even if it’s just to make people think? But is that focus ultimately putting a stifle on what could be? I was deciding tonight to just spill it, to just write what’s been on my mind, even if I come across as a nut – or worse, a bad writer. (That’s worse right?) Your post came through just as I was about to shut down for the night. Coincidental timing? Maybe…but you’ve given me more to think about, maybe not how you intended, but that line is burning me.

    Anyway…
    I have to say that I wrote in my diaries with the main purpose of unburdening myself, and had no real inclination or care about what my words would mean to a future me. And they mean a lot to this me. They are a kind of miracle of insight that would not exist otherwise. It still amazes me what things I find there about myself that do not change (emotions, worries, concerns that I repeated over and over at different times without realizing that I had written nearly the same words before), what things no longer matter (that seemed earth-shattering at the time) and what things I had forgotten (though they led me to grow as a person).

    Now, about you..
    – I can’t imagine you mean, so I’m figuring that was just a random example 🙂
    – arrogant? hmmm…I don’t know…
    – smarter than you are now? doubtful; smarty pants? I’ll believe that
    – less jaded and more wide-eyed? that happens to most of us; it’s unavoidable…right?

    Thought provoking as always.

    • Haha, bad writer worse than a nut… First let’s establish that you’re perfectly sane. But you make an interesting point. If we feel it’s worse to be bad writers than to be nuts, then are we more worried about how people perceive us (through our writing) than about who we actually are?

      It’s funny… I know I sometimes journaled to unburden myself, but mostly I really did write with the intention of catalyzing a dialogue with myself… and I guess you could say with the world and reason. Just dialogue, period. Also on my mind was that I would want to read some of what I wrote when I was older. I almost always wrote in the form of essays and thought experiments… Only sometimes did I pour out emotions for their own sake. I was trying to control my thoughts and navigate the maze of mind and the larger maze of the world. In a lot of my old journals, going back to middle school, I wrote like an alien who had just landed on earth. In high school I wrote a lot about the dynamics of my calculus class, as if I were an anthropologist. I asked a lot of questions… Blah, that’s all me, me, me.

      You’re right. There’s great insight in our younger selves. They lived in a different world, mentally and physically. I, for one, was less beholden to one idea or another. The world was a grand experiment and it was great fun to play with the variables. It’s still fun, but the weight of the task has grown.

      • Michelle says:

        Well, I was mostly joking about that bad writer thing. 🙂 But you’re making me think. Is my image more important than the reality of who I am? No. I can definitely say no.

        “The weight of the task has grown.” I believe that’s a whole post in one line.

        • Yeah, I was only half serious too. But my image is also a part of who I am, and how others see me forms me as much as I form myself. So I do think about these things in a general sense. My actions are meaningless if they’re isolated from how people react to them, whether they reward me for them or punish me, or whether they’re indifferent. If they’re indifferent, I’ll feel like I don’t exist. So in principle I don’t think there’s anything wrong with worrying about what other people will think, though of course this can be taken too far. I think humans need love to live, or at least attention, and to be healthy we need positive attention. Call it some “stroking” of our egos, or mere acknowledgement that we’re here and that we did something and that someone noticed. In a way it goes back to your query about consequences. An absence of consequences (some of which include people’s reactions to and judgments about what we do) logically means an absence of meaningful actors.

          We want to be noticed because want to BE, right? And not only do we want to be, we want to be loved, respected, valued–but mostly loved. So we do whatever we can to win people’s love, even though in theory love should not be something we have to “win” as if it were a reward in a game. Well, that’s all I got!

      • “…acknowledgement that we’re here and that we did something and that someone noticed.”

        That’s mine. If I could be noticed and appreciated, but invisible at the same time…that would work for me. Like, if I could just read about how people adore me, that would be fine. But why do I need to feel adored? Damn, this is bringing up whole new issues!

        And really, part of the invisible part goes back to what I told you a long time ago about trust, I think. If they say it to my face, I don’t believe it’s true – I’m looking for the angle. But if they say it without knowing that I’m there, then they MUST be telling the truth, right?

        I am confused. That’s the bottom line.

  2. pattisj says:

    I hadn’t thought to go back and read my journals. Somehow, I think that might cure insomnia. 🙂 Interesting to see you compare your early ones with now.

  3. when i go back and re-read my journals I’m amazed at how often “I knew” and yet was unaware of the knowing. We have more wisdom within us than we realize. Perhaps journalling is a way of tapping into that and something we need to be conscious of.
    walk in beauty.

    • I agree with you: we have way more wisdom when we’re young than we may be able to understand at the time. It’s easy to forget that, and also that today’s youth have their own wisdom.

  4. Pingback: I don’t feel like writing this post | Let me ask you this…

  5. “And really, part of the invisible part goes back to what I told you a long time ago about trust, I think. If they say it to my face, I don’t believe it’s true – I’m looking for the angle. But if they say it without knowing that I’m there, then they MUST be telling the truth, right?”

    Yes, I relate well to that! Also to “I am confused. That’s the bottom line.”

  6. Pingback: Uncovering Your Best Material « Longridge Editors LLC

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