The “how” of a thing is unanimously easier to explain than the “why.” Putting to voice one’s reasons or motives for an act that may feel completely instinctual is such a challenge because it asks grand questions about who we are, how we see the world, and why we express it the way we do.
As for me, I’d always been known as a quiet sort. My grandfather, prone to tall tales, once told me that I communicated only in squeaks until I was three; I didn’t speak my first word until then, and I swiftly moved on to whole sentences as if I’d been biding my time. My mother states that his account is an exaggeration, but not much of one. It took me so long to talk that my parents thought there might be something wrong with me.
But I had a vivid imagination even from an early age. I communicated best through stories, both real and imagined. Having a hard time speaking in absolutes about things (like how I felt about a situation), I made comparisons to how other things made me feel, and I made associations quickly. I shied away from attention, with one exception: I liked knowing the answers to questions.
Again, all of this seems to hint at the “how,” as in “how this came to be,” as opposed to the “why.” The why, as per usual, is a tricky beast.
I always felt like there was something in my chest, a balloon that swelled every time I witnessed beauty: a salmon-hued Florida sunset, the smell of rain as it fell on spring-green banana leaves, a calm gray sky, a winter cardinal perched on skinny branches. That swell would get to be too much to take; I felt like I would choke on it. The only thing that abated the pressure was to try and capture it in words. I started with journals, those marble-covered composition books that I’d fill in a month or two before requesting a replacement. I’d go for long walks or stare from my window while aping whatever I’d read of Thoreau or Frost. I didn’t care that no one would ever see those lines. All that mattered was diminishing that breathless tension of the world weighing on my chest.
After a time, I turned my gaze from the beauty visible from the safety of my bedroom window to the more complex beauty of human beings. The way they tried and failed, the way they loved and hated, the heights to which they could ascend and the depths to which they could fall. My empathy for the human condition has yet to reduce: no matter how much I try to release the pressure through writing, that pressure is still there, but I accept and welcome it, now, as a fundamental aspect of who I am. I use it to keep me pushing toward that transcendental truth that I think every writer aspires to, impossible though it may be.
That’s the why of it in my case, slippery and vague and maybe even useless to anyone else but me. I write because I’ll suffocate if I don’t. Because I have to express this world as I see it, for fear that, in failing to do so, I may cease to see it at all.