Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Reading and Writing

A few days ago, I read a whole book, start to finish, all 344 pages. (It was a YA book called Alienated, if you're wondering.) It's been a long time since I've devoured a book like that. That summer in Hamilton before I started my junior year, when the only people I knew in town were the librarian and Eli Green (who spent most of the summer working on his dreadlocks under the gaze of a wax statue of James Cash Penney), is the last time I have a clear memory of spending each day with a new book, the sun streaming in my window until that final stretch when only lamplight will do and there's no turning back, only pressing on until you hit cover.

Reading so voraciously has always had two effects on me.

First, the best books leave their voices in my mind. Whenever I read, say, Shakespeare or Austen or Dickens, really read them, lose myself in them, it's like I've been speaking a foreign language for a while, and it takes my brain a few hours or days to lose the accent. Like that semester in college when I took a solid three hours of Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I always thought in Spanish for the rest of the afternoon. I love this side effect of reading. The world seems a little grander when it all turns into Shakespeare in your head, the edges of everything gilt in a special glow.

The second effect of reading so much is that I think about writing more. Like how browsing through DeviantArt always makes me itch to draw.

I used to define myself by reading and by the desire to write. Looking back, I never actually did write much, though. Some poems in high school, the opening paragraphs of a dozen different stories that never seemed to survive conception. I did write a lot of essays throughout my academic career. I prided myself on writing them all last minute, exulting in the self-perceived elegance of my thrown together turns of phrase. "Look at the beauty of this thing I made! It took me no time at all! Envy my apparent natural talent!"

How foolish! How conceited! Recently, I've begun to fear that what modest talent I may have had has wilted beyond revival due to neglect. There's also the lurking apprehension that maybe in curing my hurts, I cured the poetry in me, too. I don't know how my recipients feel about them, but I'm even dissatisfied with the letters I write. My journal entries all quickly devolve into triteness and redundancy, which, though private, still leave me somehow disappointed in myself. I crave a kind of classic, graceful beauty in my phraseology. Am I unrealistically yearning for some literary star?

I used to write for the attention, or to express some painful emotion. I don't need that anymore. Now, I'm wondering if I can still write without insecurity as my motivation. Can my writing still be beautiful, even poetic?

I don't know.

Let's find out.

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