In one way or another, this question has been coming up more and more lately. With more of my friends learning I’ve just finished my first semester in an MFA program, I hear/see that question a lot. Among my new friends at the program, the same question: Why are we putting ourselves through this?
And from my family as well, though often not so directly. Usually, it’s more questions about how the finances are doing (we’re surviving), or how we are going to raise a child on meager stipend and minimum wage (we don’t know). But just as often I hear how happy the family is that I am pursuing dreams with dogged determination.
So it all comes down to the question: Why write?
Of course, I am doing the degree because I want to be a successful poet, and making connections, learning how to see the poem from outside (i.e. – from the workshop and others’ POV), and consistent and steady work in the field are ways to get there. I do want to be published, and have people read my work, and be invited to read in exchange for money, and earn a tenured university position.
But these are not the primary reasons.
I write because even without these things I would write anyways. I write even without an assignment. I write because there is something to say.
There is something so beautiful that it cannot be ignored.
There is an injustice that must be documented in the hopes of change.
There is an emotion that cannot be expressed in one word.
There is a challenge to my brain, a puzzle which itches.
There is hope for a group of humans who may be present in the future.
There is fear about my future.
There is ugliness and love and lust and attraction and disgust and history and the future and science and the changing culture and society, and all these things need metaphors. We just don’t have the literal words for things; even language is metaphor. Sometimes, all these things are enveloped in one physical object; sometimes, they all result from the same action or lack thereof; sometimes they are all separate but similar. For brains which developed fear, aggression, and greed first, before the forebrain and complex cortex and consciousness, these things have no direct expression.
I write to express these things. Things which cannot be said simply or fully expressed with a few words, which need the focus, determination, and meditation of a poem or story. These things are important because they tell us who we are. Who we are going to be. How our society is going to end up.
These are important, and this is why I write.
ps — Yes, I know this is tending toward the idealistic, but isn’t that what you get when you challenge someone’s sense of self? If one isn’t idealistic about one’s profession, shouldn’t one question the choice of profession. Anyways, ’til later.