I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I decided to be a writer. But I have a memory of standing on the front lawn of our house in North Hampton, under the ancient maple trees, and I’m quite sure my mother was still alive. So I had to have been younger than twelve. I wrote my first novel, typed on a manual typewriter, sitting at a table by the bay window of that house, so it was before we moved to the trailer park. Before the home where I grew up with its acres of fields and woods was sold, and its contents, generations of accumulation, was vomited out onto the lawn as a yard sale.
Why did I decide to become a writer? Because I had all these stories in my head that I wanted to share. I loved reading other people’s stories. I was sure they would love mine. So I spent the next thirty years of my life writing them all down. The sharing part, the publishing, was problematic. So I put it off. Keeping up with the urgent pageant in my head seemed more important. Finally, when I turned fifty, I realized I couldn’t put it off any longer. That was when I found out I was wrong. A writer is not what I wanted to be.
We all have stories to tell, stories we are eager to share. Sometimes they are just the anecdotes of our day’s adventures. Our audience can simply be the friends or family who will listen to us, who validate our storytelling with their response. They care. That caring means our stories matter. We matter.
Many of us have greater stories to share, stories that come out of how we feel and where we have been, the narratives of our lives, the dreams of our imagination, the songs of our soul. We use words and images, poetry and paint, music and melody, trash and treasures. These are more, much more, than the anecdotes of our day, although the anecdotes often weave together into a greater cloth. We yearn to share beyond just our family and friends.
We need for people to care about our stories, our voices. Blurred and belittled in the dizzying masses, who are we? What do we matter? Graffiti is a cry to be heard, to be noticed, to matter. Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, YouTube videos: millions of voices searching for appreciation, for validation, for importance. They shout, “I have something to say! Listen! Look! Care!”
To be ignored, taken down, painted over, rejected, not chosen, not shared, not liked: it silences the voice. The story does not matter; it is unwanted. What are we other than our stories? What are our lives if not the narratives, built of dreams and memories, that we tell of ourselves? If no one cares, if no one wants to hear, it is a kind of oblivion.
We will do anything to be heard. We will put our own stories aside and try to discover what other people want to hear, what they want to see, to try to win their attention. We create images for ads, contrive fluff for greeting cards, compose jingles and sing other peoples’ songs, crank out articles, write for the market. We present a face to the world that the world wants to see, carefully crafted, pleasing, inauthentic. Because, maybe, if we are good enough at that, we can get them to pay attention to what really matters, the stories from our lives and our hearts.
They pay me for telling the stories they want to hear. This is what being a writer is. This is not what I wanted. Is it what you wanted? This collateral circus of editing, publishing, promotion, marketing? Or did you just want to share what sings inside of you? The gasp of wonder? The grasp of an epiphany? To weep the tears and see your emotions echoed in the eyes of those who listen and care? Know it matters? That you matter?
All around us, behind the social smile and cheerful chatter, hide small tragedies and triumphs. The person you know; the person you don’t know; the uncountable parade of eyes that glance by you every day. The anonymous busker on the crowded corner, the unknown author in the empty bookstore. Fragile, unheard and unimportant. Graffiti in the subway, voices crying out, passed over by weary travelers whose own tales remain embryonic, unbirthed.
A story told in the woods, with no one around to hear it.