Sunday, July 1, 2012

One of Life's Happy Little Surprises

I’ll confess something, here, that is somewhat embarrassing – or at least WAS highly embarrassing at the time. When I was a teen-ager, struggling with the problems of everyday teen-age living, I would write in my journal, “Dear Diary, I have this problem.” Then I’d write all about my problem and close with, “What do you advise me to do?”
Then I would shift gears and write, “Dear Samantha, here is what I think you should do.” I would draw back and do my best to be objective and mature, and give good advice. When I reverted to being myself again I’d read the “advice” I had been “given,” and do my best to follow it. Most often, it was in the vein of, “Be patient, let it work out,” or, “Speak up, but say it nicely.” In other words, what my emerging wisdom was telling me. This was probably my earliest form of true prayer, speaking to God and trying to listen for the answers.
I’ve often said that for me, writing has been a compulsion. I wrote because I felt driven. I could not NOT write. I NEVER went anywhere without at least a scrap of paper to scribble on. When I pack for a trip, whether for two days or two months, I still bring a few pens and a notebook with lots of blank pages. I own at least thirty of these half-filled journals that lie around the house or piled in boxes, marked “Confidential - Do Not Read.” They contain the expression of my random thoughts and feelings across decades, in words I felt I could not live with had they remained locked inside.
We who write often ask ourselves and each other why we bother. Most of us know we’ll never become rich and famous from writing . . . if fame and fortune were what we were after, writing would hardly be the favored approach. Almost anything else brings more material reward than writing does.
But as my teen-age journal dialoging demonstrates, writing has been more than a compulsion, and brought me more than release. It brought me to the brink of insight, the ability to see more deeply and clearly into my experience. As an adult, writing my memoir brought me an entirely new perspective on the major events in my own life.
Last week it finally brought me something else – a feeling of glee which I can’t say I’ve ever experienced before – because I saw myself on YouTube for the first time, and it was heady, and fun!
I had been interviewed about my book on a terrific little television program, called “Alivelihood: New Adventures As We Age.” Karma Kitaj, the show host, interviews men and women who have made major changes in their careers at mid-life, and someone had told her about me and the story contained in my memoir. So I found myself sitting on a program set, under spotlights in an otherwise dark room, with the giant black eyes of cameras trained on me, answering questions.
It was scary. There was no script, and I had no idea what Karma’s questions would be. I wasn’t at all confident I wouldn’t stumble on my answers, make mistakes, sound foolish. But somehow I made my way through the thirty on-air minutes and went home with a DVD to show me how I had looked and sounded.
It was OK, and I wasn’t unhappy with the result, especially since no one was able tell me when the show airs and so I have no idea whether anyone ever watches it.
But last week I found that a ten-minute edited clip of the show had gone up on YouTube, for the world to see, and when I watched it I felt a flash of joy, a fleeting moment of what I suppose fame might feel like, if I were actually famous.
Anyone can get on YouTube, I know it’s no big deal, but this had happened without any action on my part. Karma develops her show, the station (BATV) does the technical work, and a video editor created the clip and posted in on the Internet.
So writing my book has given me not only the satisfactions that I experienced on its completion, but also this little extra “kick” of seeing myself interviewed on a program I much admire, where interesting people answer wonderful questions on a theme that is inspirational – namely, that it is never too late to go in new directions, and to have new adventures. This was my new, little adventure, and it was fun! 
One cannot know what might follow from putting one’s thoughts in writing, or what insights might emerge, or where it will take you. But showing up on YouTube was fun, and something that would not have happened, in my case, if not for my compulsion to put my memories into words, and write them down. 

Do you write? Please tell me why you do, or don't. Is it a compulsion, a drive for self-expression, or an art you are drawn to? What purpose, if any, does it serve for you? I am very interested in your comments.