Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Write, Therefore I Think

Joan Didion once said, "I write to find out what I think."

I believe everyone has a way to process information. To sort out what they're going through, to make sense of everything that seems to have no reason. It's been so long since I've actually sat down and written something, just for the sake of writing-- without a deadline, without purpose of a grade. Just write because I have something to say.

Tonight I interviewed a sexual assault victim for a story. After the interview, she glanced at my notes, and asked, "Did you get everything you needed?" My notebook was a mess of information, quotes, arrows connecting points and bold stars highlighting extra-worthy, gotta-have-'em snippets of, well, her story. "How are you gonna take everything I said and put it down on paper?"

Taking my J-school classes, I've so often heard that we're not there to write profiles, we're not there to write features, we're not there to write about music or fashion or cooking. We're there to write hard news, we're there to take a complicated issue and simplify it for someone who opens their paper each morning and wants to understand what's happening outside their door. "To all your parents who're worried that you're studying to become journalists," said my professor, "tell them not to. You'll always have a job, you'll always be needed. Because you're storytellers, and stories will be told forever."

The thing that bothered me about what my professor said that very first class, is this: aren't we all? Aren't we all storytellers? Aren't music writers people who give others a sense of beauty in what they listen to in a song? Aren't GQ reporters there to tell a reader that what they wear, what they put on their back every morning, is art made out of fabric? Isn't the girl who sits at the back of the class and gossips about what happened last weekend between so-and-so a storyteller, as well?

It seems everyone else is overlooked and underestimated, and it seems to me that the smallest things that don't seem to be front-page material are the news that people most look forward to, most learn from, most carry with them. Whether it be in their iPods or the book they take with them to read at the bus stop. The unworthy writers suggested those things, talked about that riff that's worth buying the whole album for.

It was after tonight that I looked at the girl and sadly thought that I wouldn't really be able to tell her whole story. Because I'm not in that class to write a profile on an assault victim, I'm just there to tell simple facts, without describing the cold look in her eye or the way she strategically places her arms across her chest. I'm there to write about when it happened, how it happened, who she called and what they told her. But isn't it the person behind the facts that everyone wants to know about? Not because we're instantly attracted to the dark side of things, but because we probably know that girl, that guy, we probably recognize the furrowed brow and have always wondered what's behind it.

A lot of people want their story told, and it's impossible to tell each one. I've never really known what I've wanted to write about, but I like to talk-- about myself, about others, about little things I've seen or lived. And I like to make stuff up every now and then, because I always wonder, "What if this were to happen?" Now wouldn't that be interesting... Didion always managed to take history and simplify it in a juicy, intriguing way that made us want to live it the way she did.

I don't necessarily write to find out what I think, but it is always after I write that everything seems to be more clear. It's frustrating when things don't sort themselves out, like a dream you frantically try to remember instantly after you've woken up, because all you know is that it felt so damn good when you were dreaming it. It's always the tiny things you remember the most, but it's in those details that I lose myself in the nonsense that are the characters of my life, in the unconnected chaos that I try to sort through like my notes after an interview.

Tonight I just wanted to write for the sake of writing--and unlike Joan Didion, I haven't learned some groundbreaking underlying notion about myself, and I haven't a new sense of what my stand is on some particular subject. But I wrote tonight simply TO think, about nothing of great importance and about everything I wanted to. That's the magic of writing, there doesn't always have to be facts, there doesn't always have to be a play-by-play and a conclusion. You can just write, to fucking write. And at least you'll appreciate it, be it or not front-page news.

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