Writing is a solvent. High school teachers’ praise was meaningless to me—they were just being nice. I did it because it kept out the demon dreams, the hatchets and meat cleavers, the bullets, the digits, and all that blood. Words were my lithium. I didn’t care whether they met with approval from a beaming polyester pantsuit. Now the docile demons heel politely on their daily walks. I let them crap where they want, and they’re tidy, like geriatric housecats. I even write to rid myself of irritation because writing is a dying art and letters get attention. If I can’t get justice, I’ll get cash and prizes, and if I can’t get those, I’ll get a cheap laugh. Laughter sloughs the grey soot of annoyance off my skin, leaving it slick like a duck’s.
Writing is a profession. I am a writer by trade, and I may be by birth. Both my parents made various livings writing. I fought it like the freckled Roman nose they gave me, and the fact that I never quite made it to 5’10”. I wouldn’t hear it for years after it was said: “You’re as good on stage as I was at your age, but you’re a much better writer.” My sophomore year of college, I liked my 2:30 writing class better than my 8:00 acting class, my sunny and encouraging writing teacher better than the pretentious espresso-swilling obsidian-clad wank of “the boards.” I changed majors, learned to take encouragement, and the first story I sent out was accepted. “Finally,” rasped my cigar-smoking fairy godmother. “Did your head make a popping sound when it broke free?”
Writing is a process. When I wrote with a wide-bore red pencil (big as a femur with graphite marrow), I stapled spines of folded sheets for my own on-demand vanity press. When I used a ball-point or a typewriter, revision was unwelcome and I tried to write clean. Now iterations fuse through my laptop. I make a pile of mismatched-sock ideas. I inspect each one and use the good ones. I get everything down then I edit. I drop it in the stop bath. I sleep. Then I edit again, and print.
Writing is a lens. It’s not the point-and-shoot kind that makes a gooey instant chemical picture; it’s a 19th-century mahogany pinhole or Leeuwenhoek’s stack. I focus it how I want, but I have to point it where I can and hope the lighting is good. Sometimes it uses sunlight to fry bugs when I’m not paying attention. Once I absently wrote a few stanzas of terrible rhyming French poetry before the shrieking of tortured language yanked me back into the room. I have since been vigilant about focus.
Writing is a compulsion. Write well and play cards, my dad told me once, and you can always get paid when you need it. He was right, but I can leave the blackjack table when I lose my stake or double it. I didn’t even stop writing when it derailed my career. Instead I wrote daily. Fortunately my electronic banned book attracted a better class of readers. I am grateful both for the readers and for the banning that brought them. The demons on their shiny red Patten-leather leashes eagerly wait by the door for their daily exercise.