Writing, Heartbeats, and Other Compulsions

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Post-it notes cover the walls of my house. One says prison riot in all caps followed promptly by three, hap-hazard exclamation points. I never intended to greet my guests with proof I am not balanced. My boyfriend and I chose our home believing the bright, empty room at the front of the house could contain all my passion as a writing office.

I rarely write in my office.

But I rarely stop writing.

It’s a compulsion.

I write a note on my phone in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree on Carolina Beach Road:

On days when the laundry and dishes seem unending – remember, there is an end.

Chores are a small rent for being alive. Joy is in the mundane.

No one was ever meant to read what I wrote but me. Although I am happy to share it, I don’t write for anyone else. For as long as I can remember, I have been in a conversation with myself: telling myself stories about people I have never met, people I love and wondering if there is a moral to be uncovered. Is there poetry in how my mother and I chain smoke with our blonde hair and share more than just food at our kitchen table?

Words were there when I was five years old. My mother read Harry Potter to me every night until she was too sick from chemotherapy and so, I learned to read for myself. I was named for her favorite literary heroines: Catherine Linton, Katie Scarlett O’Hara and Katherine, the shrew from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Words were there when I was eleven, the year I completed my first novel and my parents divorced. The same year the librarian sent home a special permission slip to permit me to read in the middle school section of the library because I had exhausted the available catalogue for grade schoolers.

On the sparse weekends when I would visit my Dad, the easiest place to talk was Barnes and Nobles. He whispered, Do you want to get a coffee? and the answer was always an emphatic yes. Recently, he published an article about Smith and Wesson revolvers. I do not understand how weapons work or why people use them, but I understand sharing yourself with other people through writing. I will keep typing fourteen-hundred words a day until enough stick to the roof of my mouth I can tell him: I am glad we are alike in some way, connected by more than a signature on a birth certificate.

In fiction, there’s a purpose to conflict: a catalyst for the protagonist to grow. Talented authors orchestrate awful, devastating circumstances into a harmonic conclusion for their audience. The ending need not be happy nor sad, only intentionally resolved.

Reality is less artful, I have found. Sometimes, you are molested and no wisdom is gained. Then, you drink too much, crash the convertible your dad bought for you into the police commissioner's yard inches from a tree and feel an invisible hand may have written you a second chance.

I am torn on what makes a good character arc. Is the individual meant to be forged by trauma into someone different or meant to straighten the lines out of their folded-up soul with a heavy book like nothing ever happened? I keep creating characters and hoping they will tell me if I am able to string all the drafts of conversations together in just the right order.

Most of what I write, I never revisit. I have over seven thousand word documents on my computer and far more stored on USB sticks at my mother’s home. I used to fear I would run out of ideas to write but every day, a new impression is left on me.

Whenever I hear someone is struggling with writer’s block or hesitant to write because they are worried their words may not be “good enough”, I want to tell them:

writing does not have to be good to be worthwhile.

Books do not have to unearth deep truths to comfort someone.

There is a joy in the mundane act of sitting quietly by yourself with a cup of hot tea and listening to your own heartbeat.

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