08 October 2021

Why I Write** - Circa 2013* But then***

***October 2021 Editor's Note: I never published this self-reblog piece like I planned to whenever I revisited it two years ago. I logged into this ancient blog for the first time in - well, literally two years - amidst a (you guessed it!) total fucking mess that I find myself in. And I like what I wrote. Maybe my problem is that I've always liked what I write/I've written, even when it's bad prose. I miss my friends from high school. I miss my friends in general. If you're reading this, and we were friends at some point, know that I miss you. But I also just miss having time to pursue the funky jazz that clouds my mind. I wish to create and be a creator. I have a new blog that I created on a completely different platform but I haven't launched it yet because it's boring and deals with professional things like school libraries and being an English teacher and this blog has, for 13 years now, been so much of my unprofessional (please notice the intentional italics and non-italics on the un- part of that unpro) life. This blog has been a diary and a symposium of my sadness. I miss writing for no audience. At one point on this blog I had 100+ audience members - all of them complete strangers. I know in the age of influencers that 100+ strangers is a literal half-blink but to me this felt important to know that my words of sadness reached the eyeballs of people who weren't my childhood and family friends. 

So if you're reading this, still, somehow, to this day, you've kept up your Blogger subscriptions and you've found me, CassLotus, please let me know you're reading this. Don't be ashamed. I've spent most of my life feeling like I'm barking into a cold, empty darkness and it would be really nice to know there's someone here reading and digesting my words.

This next part, the italics before the post, is something I wrote two years ago - sometime in 2019. 

*Editor's Note: I'm in the thick of one of those weird seasons of life you sometimes hear other people that are luckily not you or your loved ones talk about filled with incredible loss. I don't quite know how to make sense of all this sadness right now. But the old meaning-maker in me (and probably the part of me that is trying to save my own life) longs to make sense of this, and so once more in my life I turn to writing. 

Sometimes my memory is only refreshed if I look back on old journal entries from the past. I took a very long hiatus from writing things down for this very reason, because, well, the things that have been happening in my life over the past 10 months have been pretty shitty and I don't wish to commit them to memory. 

Yet here I am, in a dark chapter of life, hoping to make sense of it. I also just turned 30 (more on this later, I think), and there's something obligatory about searching through who you once were to see if you've arrived anywhere you hoped you'd be. (Spoiler Alert: I haven't arrived. But Second Spoiler: I'm okay with my lack of arrival right now. I'm literally just trying to survive to the end of this teaching school year and allow summer to heal me - I promise more on this healing stuff later.)

I started writing again this weekend to make sense of shit, and for some reason I thought of this beast of a post I compiled a few years ago in another (not-so-dark-but-equally-as-confusing) time in my twenties. There is what feels like an entire lifetime between me and this girl who wrote this post under my name 6 years ago, and yet we (she and I) still want the same things: "to heal myself and help others." (How tragically beautiful is that?) Something is brewing here, y'all. Please stay tuned.

So here we go in what may become a steady stream of self-reblogs from the past or just this one and then some new content. I hope it speaks to you or sparks joy (in a non-judgy Kondo kinda way). (By the way, the boy mentioned in this post is still my boy. Yes, we've taken some weird plot twists and turns but this guy is honestly the only constant positive force in my life. So glad we figured that one out; so glad I have at least one accomplishment to boast of at 30.) 

Originally Published September 8, 2013:

**This title is stolen from the Joan Didion essay, "Why I Write," who, fun fact, stole her title from George Orwell's essay by the same name. This blog post is inspired by the Joan Didion essay, that I just re-discovered in the messy "Re-Read when Bored" bookmark folder on my Chrome browser. I will now stop this complicated and run-on beginning footnote and get on with my own essay.

I wrote my first short story when I was seven; I was bored on a family vacation at my aunt's home in West Virginia. There was a thunder storm, and my aunt had a ton of plain white paper for me to draw on. The story was about a little boy frog and a dad frog. The little boy frog was bored on a vacation, stuck inside because of a thunderstorm (I must have dug deep for that premise, y'all), and did not like any of the suggestions the dad had for his son - board games (aptly spelled "bored" games), running around the living room, playing with one of seven cats (no logic in this story - a frog with a pet cat?), and drawing pictures of dolphins on computer paper. The little frog never found anything to do because I never finished the story - a precursor to how a majority of my short stories would end up later in life. Even though I never finished the story, my mother made about a hundred copies of it and sent it to our relatives (I'm an only child, haven't you heard?). It was unfinished and unrefined crap, but at least my mom liked it.

In high school, I knew I was a genius because I wrote in my diary every three months about "real" things. Freshman year, my grandpa died, and I wrote really crappy poems with cliche'd metaphors and phrases like, "I'd walk the path to heaven to find you." And, like the short story about the frog, my mother thought it was all brilliant, making photocopies of all my crappy poems, giving me the photocopies and keeping the original handwritten ones in her underwear drawer next to the Tic-Tac box of my baby teeth. She made me feel like I had real talent - a mother is one of the most dangerous creatures when it comes to pursuing a creative life. I could literally copy a sentence out of Snooki's book and my mother would think it was beautiful and well-rounded and toss me a photocopy of it on her way to filing it in her underwear drawer.

I know that deep down, I was writing to cope with the sadness and loneliness any grieving teenager would have, but mostly it just made me feel important. I carried around this black and white composition notebook and scribbled little bits and pieces from people's conversations like a detective. I wrote in class and at lunch and made sure everyone could see that I was writing without ever showing them what I was writing. I still have that notebook. It sits in a box with twelve other notebooks filled with scribbles. My favorite line is stolen from a conversation between my mother and her college roommate: "Honey, I'd have a beard if it weren't for my good eye."

I've continued to write in lined notebooks since then, taking a break sophomore year of high school to write in a graph-paper-lined notebook. That notebook was my food journal, or rather, my eating disorder journal. In it, I taped pictures of women's thin arms and abs and those annoying tear-out workout cards from Shape magazine, using it as "inspiration," or, in other words, reasons for me not to eat. When I did eat, I would overeat and throw up in my parents’ shower. I only remember this because it's conveniently logged like a police report in the graph-paper lined notebook.

In the year following the food journal, I got healthy again, at least physically, just in time for my grandmother to become incredibly sick. She was my best friend and the reason I got through many painful nights in high school. It was at 16 that I started to see a bigger picture forming in my mind: she was dying, and I could not save her. So instead, I carried my notebook with me and recorded our conversations and pieces of advice she would offer me. I scribbled things like, "I used to smile all the time," a line that I still have not found the proper home for in a short story. I made lists of all the things we wanted to do the summer before she died. I wrote things we made, scores of card games we played, and grocery lists she wrote for me. That notebook is one of my greatest treasures.

She died when I was 17, but not after a long and painful struggle, and myself sitting there and witnessing all of it. After she died, I didn't know or understand how to deal with the indefinable sadness that was worse than anything I’d ever experienced. I took a creative writing class my senior year of high school. The class was taught by one of the most amazing and inspiring people I've ever met, someone I still keep in touch with. In her class, she had us write in composition notebooks. I was no stranger to the notebook-wielding business - this was my jam. I didn't, however, realize what a profound effect being forced to write everyday would have on me. We did free writes five days a week - basically just five minutes of unadulterated pen-to-paper mental diarrhea. It forced me to push out the sludge in my brain and really connect with the deeper, raw emotions that were tangled inside me and my stupid and adolescent, grieving heart.

The biggest lesson with writing I almost learned too late was that the feelings I had inside - the sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, and fear - they weren't unique in any way. It was how I talked about these feelings that made my story unique, and the learning how has been the greatest challenge of all. No one would give two shits about my short story with a protagonist who was sad because her elderly grandmother died. Why? Because the death of an old woman is not a tragedy, and reading a sappy story where the narrator whines and complains with phrases like, "I was inconsolably sad and stifled the sadness with cigarettes and vodka," does not win a reader over.

Writing has helped me to understand myself in this way. It's not what you write about, it's how you write about it; it's not what you talk about, it's how you talk about it. Writing has allowed me to actually listen to people, not just plan what I'm going to say next.

Unfortunately, I spent a majority of my young adult life feeling like I was a genius because I wrote things down. Sometimes I still feel that way. But now when I write, I write because I'm trying to untangle the messy wires and memories and make them feel less painful. When I write, I get to see my grandma again. I get to eat oatmeal at the kitchen table with her and play cards with her and hold her close to me and protect her from falling over her oxygen cords and into a coma. Or sometimes, I let her fall. I let her fall over and over again, in reverse, in forwards, in slow motion, in fast motion, into a bathtub, into the ocean, into me. Some days, on paper, I meet up with her after being away for months and she asks me where I've been, turning and smiling at me in a sweater with a sailboat on it.

Other times, more often these days, I rework relationships. When I miss him, I write it out on paper. I get to go back to that ranch, back inside that barn. I get to relive the night that we drank two bottles of wine after shoveling horse shit and hay all afternoon, that night when he undressed me for the first time and whispered in my ear. I listen to my memories and sew what those memories tell me into a stronger version of myself (my protagonist).

When I write, I grow a pair of balls and kill the crickets that invaded our kitchen in our apartment instead of waking him up at 2 a.m. to kill them for me. I unravel the anger I still have with myself, the bitterness I have over quitting a relationship and a life together so easily and running back home scared of growing up. I get to cultivate a new me, an understanding Cass that accepts what, at the time, felt like not real love because the stars didn't dance the way I thought they would but my perceptions were really just deformed because I spent too much of my young adult life watching Nancy Meyers films. (And this next time, in my writerly dreams, I don't contribute to his pain; this time, I stay with him in our cute apartment in Northern California instead of fleeing to Los Angeles to find myself.)

Writing lets me relive past lives, it lets me drink up the sadness and anger and bitterness and burp up some sort of beautiful conclusion about myself, my life, my past.

I guess writing does still make me feel important, but it's not that egotistical importance I had when I was fourteen. Instead, it makes me feel like my life itself and everything that has or hasn't happened to me is important. Writing makes me feel alive, it makes me feel okay, and it makes me believe that I can do great things (like heal myself and help others).

May you feel important, in a good way.

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