Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why I Write

An interesting guest post at the Mad Genius Club, prompted this reply.

One can, a la Sigmund Freud, pontificate on one's own childhood and upbringing and rationalize one's own current outlook and motivations. In this, my reply is that I was an only child raised by a workaholic father, which left me with the time, means and necessity by which to entertain myself. Within sight of whatever adult authority figure was appropriated to my "care".

So, I read. Lots. Unlike other (like omg, dude, every) vigorous writer/reader that I know of, I cannot cite great influences. Oh yes, I read Tolkien and Asimov very young, and they linger with me conceptually, in world building and storytelling.

My childhood was also dotted with stage bound performances, acting, and that also remained as a vague theme of something influential (successful performances became validation of self-esteem queries); again, I could not tell you the names of the plays I did.

Back to the question. Why do I write?

In my sin-filled twenties, I was a performing Emcee, a DiscJockey who could sing, dance, tell jokes and run contests. Fame and glory were mine for the taking.

I did not care. I still do not care.

Ladies and gentleman, there is something greater than fame, glory and power (and even slightly better than the women who love the same) - there is satisfaction.

That satisfaction, to this day... let me describe a cheesy scene.

* * *

Winter. Pinellas County, Florida. The Canadian retiree population is there en masse. It is Tuesday evening. Karaoke has started early, with another host, and I have taken over for the night time festivities. The night is still young. The crowd wants to leave, because I am a young kid, and I do not sing doo-wop hits of the 50's. But, I give them a smile, remember their names, encourage them to stay a bit longer.

I am young and full of energy. It pulses. It washes over the crowd like the scent of wildflowers in a midwest meadow. I play music with a heavy bass line and dance like no one is watching. I know they're watching, but that's not why I dance.

I savor their moments with them, I see their little grey heads bob up and down to the tunes of choice. They smile freely, without worry.

The thirty somethings begin to show up. They've worked hard all day. They just need a few drinks to take the edge off. I greet them with a knowing grin.

An hour into a show where people mostly entertain themselves, and I am simply the conductor, the emcee, the host - the energy mingles. The group unwinds. The pulse of energy is contagious, it is a virus of passion, of desire to forget what we think we know.

I see a retiree doing the Electric Slide. Then another. I see the corporate executive loosen his tie and serenade his girlfriend with a horrific rendition of some angsted 90's alternative rock ballad - and the crowd goes wild, and the girl looks about to cry.

One by one, over time, they forget who they think they are, and become something that's okay to be. Unburdened by societal pressures, by the nuances of age. They laugh, dance and smile. One by one, I watch them, encourage them, indulge them, their momentary escapism.

That is my job.

The night lengthens, and reality calls from its faraway corner in the shadows of their mind. Work, responsibilities, budgets. Slowly, some leave. Never without thanking me for this or that. Me, I'm still bouncing around, I'm a jester, a fool without a care in the world as far as they know. But, I drop the mask for just a moment and thank them for stopping by, for allowing me to entertain them.

There is no greater satisfaction in the world, in that single moment of connectivity with an absolute stranger. That I have provided the salve of escapism that soothed the worries of their day, week, life.

* * *

In writing, I can take that one step further. Back to my love of psychology, I can help a reader escape - AND - I can force a reader to think, to consider, to ponder their own what ifs.

In my childhood, that was my benefit from reading. When I read a book, I imagined myself the protagonist, living the world that the author provided, pondering the notions - and for a time, I forgot that I was maybe bored, or lonely or whatever else was on my mind as a son being raised by a workaholic father.

I can do that. I know I can. I can bring the best experiences of my life, the satisfaction I got from seeing that smile; and take it one step further, into unlocking the mind, letting the mind escape.

I create - in writing, in real life - a world where the possibilities are within reach. I provide a window to escape. Sometimes, let's face it, life/living is pure hell. When I see that I have allowed someone to escape their own shackles, I swear there is no greater satisfaction. It is gift given and gift received in one.

That is why I write.


  1. It's funny how our lives share some parallels, Bill. I was an only child of a father who worked all the time too. I ended up reading a lot, but also given the time of my adolescence (late 80's, early 90's), I also played a lot of video games too. Of course, the storytelling in video games was far more sparse then (in some cases completely nonexistent), but later on during the early to mid 1990's, I would discover video games that placed as large an emphasis on the storyline as it did the gameplay. Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III (originally the Japanese Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI respectively). Chrono Trigger. Even The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to some extent. These along with reading various classic fantasy authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were formative in the development of my current self and my passions for fantasy and fiction.

    I read your disc jockey anecdotes with a warm smile. My father was a hotel manager. But somehow, during various points of his life, he was also a mobile disc jockey as well. He would take me along on various gigs, and I would help him load his music equipment into whatever vehicle he had at the time (van, SUV, etc.). He preferred to play music that would be considered Oldies, generally music from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Which, given that he was born in the 50's, didn't really surprise me. It was the music of his childhood. There were times he'd blast the music in our apartment on his sound equipment, and I would have to tell him to turn it down (we once had a policeman knock on our door in response to the noise disturbance). The irony of this was not lost on me.

    I don't see the scene you described as that cheesy. It simply is what it is. There is satisfaction to be had in bringing a smile to others and letting them lay down their burdens, if even for a short time. I notice that you used performance as a metaphor for writing in an earlier post too, and I do find it appropriate. The tools and devices used are different, but the overall goal is the same.

    :) Anyways, good post. Sorry if I rambled somewhat.

  2. Er, that should read, my uncle is a good 15 years older than me. Ha. I need more coffee.

  3. That's interesting. And you're right, I don't suppose I put much thought into it along those lines, but writing is another form of creative performance - summarily, that's a comfort zone for me. It's strange, because it goes against most aspects of my personality - my father never understood it, and it was extremely rare that he saw me perform.

    I hit a point last decade where I had to sell most of my mobile DJ equipment, and I ended up selling it to my uncle, a good 15 years younger than me. There's a satisfaction in seeing him recapture his youth with the occasional gig that he does.

    Some writers, performers, do it for their ego, or their ego gets in the way, but there's always some that do it for the love of the result. My uncle is one of those, and it sounds like your father was, too.

  4. I think that creative urges allow us to express parts of ourselves which do not otherwise find an outlet. Whilst I believe that you write for all the reasons you have stated, I also think that it is a deep compulsion or creative expression which urges you to do so, a calling if you will.

    There is a difference between creativity from an ego POV and of finding satisfaction and happiness in entertaining. The performer enjoys the applause but that is not the only reason they perform.

    When I used to dance on stage there was this certain feeling that came over me. It was of a connection to myself but also to the people watching. Of sharing a moment. Thats what is wonderful about art in any form, that the artist and the audience are able to share in it and to form these connections, and take something from the experience.

    To be able to inspire with words and thoughts, and you do, is something very special indeed.

  5. I did not see a place to comment on your Summer Break post, but I just wanted to go ahead and say that I wish you well, Bill. It definitely sounds like you have had an eventful summer!

    Nothing wrong at all with taking a break, and often times it can rejuvenate a person so that he or she can return to his or her passions with renewed vigor. I hope you find yourself in better health also.

    Have you had a chance to read any good books recently? The last one that I read was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and I found it to be very deserving of the Nebula and Hugo Awards it won back in 1975 and 1976 respectively. It is some of the best military science fiction I've read.

    Anyways, have a great one, Bill.


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