“Write about the monsters under your bed”
Read an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah on my Flipboard a couple of weeks ago, which was so edifying as I was finding myself right smack in the middle of a re-quest for writing. She’s the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and well, while I didn’t read the book, and love the movie largely because it was carried by Julia Roberts who managed to convey that quality of being still enough just to hear your inner voice, while going on soul-searching adventures, something Elizabeth Gilbert said in that interview [http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Elizabeth-Gilbert-The-Signature-of-All-Things/1] totally blew me away:
“As a writer,” she says, “it’s a rare privilege to not be worried about money. It’s a rare privilege to have your emotional health. It’s a rare privilege in women’s history to not have to be a mother if you don’t want to be. I couldn’t do this kind of book if I hadn’t made it through some dark years, or if I hadn’t become self-sufficient, or if I had three kids to take care of. I wanted to honor the fact that I’m in this position.”
I was deeply moved by this sentiment of wanting to honour the privileged position she found herself in.
Especially at a time when my helper had arrived and settled in, and I was free to once again, write.
I have been blogging for more than eight years now. The first blog was sort of an online journal for me, where I gave nicknames to my friends just to protect their privacy… then I dedicated an entire blog to daily reflections on death and loss that I wrote specially for a friend who was struggling to cope with the impending loss of his mum. Those blogs carried many of my dreams and nightmares, imaginings and fantasies. Best years of my life in writing, perhaps.
Blogging aside, it seems like I’ve been writing all my life.
I saw this quote just earlier: “Write about the monsters under your bed.”
Or the dreams in your head. The insanity that accompanies you. And the fantasies that keep you living and breathing. Write about the horrors you face and the heartbreaks you endure. Write about God moments and your time spent in hell. Write about desires and passions kept silent, and the hopes and wishes you don’t dare to voice.
I’ve done all that.
By the time I was fourteen, I must have written at least five (or more) novellas, most of which were stored on colourful diskettes (remember those things?), all of which I’m sure I’ll cringe to read again. At the time of “The Teenage Textbook”, I wrote my own version and of course, wrote my own love story – or rather, the way I’d have liked a particular love story of my life then, to unfold.
When a good friend passed away when we were fifteen, I wrote about how she and her boyfriend’s story would never be told. Looking back, I understand how that was a coping mechanism for me. I needed to find meaning in a death that didn’t make sense to me, especially in those confusing, tumultous teenage years, with no faith or spirituality for an anchor. I didn’t realise it then but I had written my own closure.
After I had my heart broken for real for the first time, I found solace one day when the words just spewed right out of me, and I must have written a thesis on my love for that man. It was a release from all the anguish I felt and was trying not to feel.
I wrote a book. Yes, I did! And published it too. Well, it didn’t sell obviously. But it was my biggest dream come true, and made possible only because I had my dear husband to edit it for me. All I wanted was to tell the story, but he gave me the opportunity to publish it. I didn’t care about that bit, though now I see his point that without publishing, I would never have pushed myself to write better.
[Which is also why I post what I write – just to ensure discipline in checking and rechecking my grammar and all, which still turn out to be one huge mess most of the time!]
This is us, taken in Bintan in November 2008, where we took a short holiday to edit my manuscript:
And yes, over the years, I have been told that I have a gift in writing.
But to be honest, I never understood what that meant, and was always too shy to even acknowledge that.
Until recently at a retreat where we were led to uncover our charisms – gifts and talents we’ve been blessed with. Working on the questions posed was a breakthrough moment for me. Because it opened my eyes to see how much joy and satisfaction I derive from writing. It would seem like I should have known that, but I didn’t. Not on a conscious level, anyway. Plus I didn’t know that one would feel joy when working with one’s charism!
Which probably explains why I made a choice to pursue writing about God in place of fiction (still a true love for me). After all, there is only that much time to spend on writing, and I had asked myself years ago, what would be the most important thing to share? Answer: God.
Writing about family life though, is something I found myself falling into, because of all the overwhelming love and emotions I felt especially since Matthew’s arrival.
All these understanding and meaning really fell into place only when I started considering seriously why I’m doing what I do. I’m not writing for a living, and I doubt I can ever find the strength to write another novel (it is really hard work!) but I just can’t seem to ever give up on putting thoughts into words.
So why do I write now? I write about my family because I want to leave a legacy for my children, and I write about God because I want to share about Him. I write because it keeps me sane and gives me a voice I’m otherwise unable to express. I write because I’m able to, and because I thoroughly enjoy the exercise even though it’s more work than pleasure sometimes. And finally, in Liz Gilbert’s words, I write because I want to “honour the fact that I’m in this position”.