The Way I Breathe

When I was a child coming upon adolescence but not quite there yet—the tween years we call that time of life now, but there was no word for it then—I remember wanting more than I had ever wanted anything to have someone listen to me.  Not just any someone, but one of that pack of important people, the grownups.

I was keenly aware then, however, that I had no opinions, no information, nothing to say that might interest the folks who ran the world.  I knew nothing, and I knew I knew nothing, so before I wanted to speak, I wanted to know.  I wanted to have something to say worth listening to.

And that’s the force behind much of my life’s trajectory, the desire to learn, to know, to speak and to be heard.

I remembered that old desire once while giving a keynote before a large hall packed with strangers, adults all. Ah, I thought then. Some dreams do come true!

But from time to time I wonder, is that the force that makes a writer, any writer, every writer, the simple desire to be heard?

I was not particularly listened to when I was a child.  I was always too something to be taken seriously in my family.  Too young, too emotional, too fanciful, too intense.  And so, following my family’s unspoken but unmistakable rules, I emerged into the world as a respectably contained, utterly calm—at least on the surface—woman.

But I broke my family rules by becoming a writer.

It is a mostly innocuous habit, writing.  More than a habit, a compulsion.  It can be, I suppose, a compulsion that’s not easy for others to live with close up.  Not just the time spent off by ourselves tapping out words on a keyboard but the time spent off in our heads discovering more worlds to write or sorting the one we are currently engaged in.  (A former partner used to ask me sometimes when we were doing something together and I was more silent than she liked, “Are you writing?”)

From time to time I ask a serious question of myself.  Is this really living, this spilling of life onto the page, this sifting my days through words to discern their meaning?

“Yes!” I answer myself.  “Yes!”  Because surely meaning matters.  And not just to me but to those who read my discernments.

The truth, however, beneath that truth is that there is something in me still that wants attention from the grownups.  A curious admission since I write mostly for children, but it is the adult response that comes first and, if I’m honest, that’s the one I am primed to watch for.

But then there is another truth.  There must be something deeper behind this curious activity, because I know I would write even if no one ever read my words.

I write because that’s the way I breathe.

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