On writing: It gots to get out.
This was originally posted on my Medium page. Visit me there, if you’re so inclined.
A professor I had in undergrad gave me my motto, or he gave it words: “It’s in me, and it gots to get out.” My writing is a splinter working its way out of my skin. Sometimes it’s the kind that can be worried at with fingernails, prized toward the surface and then pop! Through it comes, and that’s a story.
Sometimes, it’s the kind where skin’s grown over but it’s there alright, just beneath that translucent veneer. So you dig and pick and squeeze all day, all week sometimes, watching its progress like a mother hen over a hatching egg. Until finally (and there’s a sigh of relief), it peeks through the surface and there you have it, a poem or an essay or the beginnings of one and even that feels like victory.
Sometimes though, the worst of times, writing reminds me of a patient my mom had once, a Somali woman who’d come to her gynecology clinic by way of a refugee camp. Through an interpreter, she told my mother about a thorn she’d swallowed, a little sharp thing that had traveled down her throat, pricking all the way. The pain in her breast, she said, that was the thorn worming its way out. And would my mother help her, like her doctor at home hadn’t been, like the refugee camp doctor hadn’t been able to help her, would my mother get out that thorn?
Well. Writing works that way, sometimes. I swallow a feeling, a sentence, a word and I can feel it all the way down, hot soup in my esophagus. And it comes out in a headache, a stomach grumble, an itch in my skin that can only be solved by, as Earnest Hemingway liked to say, “the application of ass to chair.” Yes, our bodies work that way.
So when I think about writing like I think about bodies, and I always am because the two are one in mine, I think writing is a physical thing. It’s a splinter, an ache, a thorn and it gots to get out, or it festers. It festers until it escapes, and then the process begins again. Because writers, like humans, like craetures of all kinds, can’t keep their insides to themselves.