Thursday, May 6, 2021

Who Do We Write For?

By Cheryl Oreglia

I’ve wrestled with this question so many times as a writer, I usually end up penning (intentional) someone, or something before the towel's thrown in.

Is it for my friends, an enemy, some ex-lover whom I pen my words? A family member, a neighbor, or some unimagined person that stumbled on my work and became enamored with the words? Maybe I write for myself? Or my deceased parents? But this much I know to be true, when I have too many agendas to shuffle nothing of value lands on the page.

Regardless of who I’m writing for, if I want to invite readers onto my page then I think Glennon Doyle Melton makes a good point, “fancy language tends to make "in" people feel more in and "out" people feel more out, and I don't think that's how words are best used. Words are best used to describe specific feelings, ideas, and hearts as clearly as possible - to make the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader, feel less alone and more hopeful.”

When I encounter an author whose voice speaks to my own, I keep their cadence in my head, along with the seeds I want to sow, the itch I need to scratch, the wound in need of healing. These voices become so congested at times it’s as if I’m stuck in traffic, I make no progress, and that obnoxious red light flashes before me. A siren if you will as if you need to take cover because a catastrophe is brewing.

I’m trying to stop the metaphors but they just keep coming.

Seth Godin says we should write for the smallest viable audience and Kurt Vonnegut says he writes for an audience of one. “Many writers write because they’ve been there, seen that, did it and burnt their fingers,” says Bangambiki Habyarimana.

The audience you choose, whether it be yourself, or your dead sister like Kurt, maybe it’s a specific community you’ve conjured up in your mind, as Amanda Gorman says it’s about the bridge, not the blade. When you read what I write there is a single connection, this page might reach out to many as if a telephone wire, but if the conversation is to have any meaning it must be one to one.

For me, the world does not make sense until I have some version of it tackled on the page. Oddly enough, as Betsy Lerner says, the act of writing is strangely more lifelike than life.

It’s is a sacred act because both reading and writing are done in solitude to be fully efficacious. I can read and write with the television on but it’s distracting and disrupts the experience, the same with sex, prayer, and morning absolutions.

It becomes an intimate relationship between the reader and the writer, third parties are not welcome, and if the writing is good the love affair will endure.

Do you check out the back cover of a book to see what the author looks like? Do you read the bio and try to imagine the person you are now connected to through their writing? What is she like? Do you inspect her life as if a detective looking for clues to solve a mystery? Or do you treat this new relationship as if a lover you’re stalking on Facebook? I’ve done it all.

Marie Howe remembers a very lonely man, coming up to her at the end of a reading and looking into her face and saying, “I feel as if I have looked down a corridor and seen into your soul.” And she looked at him and said, “You haven't. Here's the good news and the bad news: you haven't! I made something, and you and I could look at it together, but it's not me; you don’t live with me; you're not intimate with me. You're not the man I live with or my friend. You will never know me in that way. I'm making something, like Joseph Cornell makes his boxes and everyone looks into them, but it's the box you look into; it's not the man or the woman. It's alchemy of language and memory and imagination and time and music and sounds that gets made, and that's different.”

Maybe that happens when we reach a place of absolute truth, no bullshit, no glossy adages, just pure authentic words nailed one by one onto the page as if a crucifixion. A part of the author must bleed, maybe die, in order for the reader to discover new life.

On occasion, I write for my Dad who harbored such hope for my life, I want him to know I haven’t forgotten him, that I’m surviving, maybe even thriving. Oh, how I wanted him to be proud of me and I know how that wiggles its way into my writing. When I write for my Mom it’s more about finding a place for my anger, for the destructiveness of cancer, for a life taken too soon. I want her to forgive me for the ways in which I think I failed her, that I didn’t give enough, even though she praised my every effort unto her death. I’ve written for my enemies, but that always ends up being a self-serving tyrant, and I tend to gloss over the truth for the version I have recreated in my head because If I were honest I am as much to blame as my nemesis. I write for my friends when I want them to understand their value, how they draw me away from the computer and into life.

Stephen King says, “one of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, working for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed, and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

As a writer, I think we have to refuse to be domesticated, and in doing so we bring the untamed parts of ourselves to the landscape, the savage, feral, unbroken, human pieces, keeping our fire contained by a thin layer of parchment and the reader is seared by proximity.

In a recent post on my blog, Living in the Gap, I wrote for my children and grandchildren. I wrote about legacy and what we hope to leave the next generation. I hope they find me enmeshed in the words I laid to rest on the page but also in the experience of brushing up against me, and in the brushing their life is forever better. I suppose that’s what I want for all my readers.

Who do you write for?

When I’m not writing for Across the Board, I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.

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