In the book “Letters to a Young Poet” Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart. Confess to yourself whether you would die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of the night, must I write?”
Must I write?
If I didn’t write, I would choke on my own words. They’d rise up within my chest with nowhere to go and swirl around my throat like manic goldfish in too small a bowl.
If I didn’t write, my experiences would become lost – they’d go forever missing with the left hand of mittens and the right foot of socks. I would question, “Did it really happen?” and wonder if the last 30 years of my life weren’t just one long ambien dream.
If I didn’t write I’d feel forever unsatisfied. A thousand cases of burgundy wine and ten bricks of sea salt chocolate cannot replace the decadence of a well-crafted metaphor.
So yes. I must write.
I try to write every day and fail. A thousand urgent matters cascade through my mind’s window like dappled butterflies, distracting me from the written word. The clock hour hand spins possessed.
But I must write.
With frenzied urgency I break time in half. I go back in time to a wifi-less place, an old café where a jukebox convenes with the percolators. Writers need analog. I find smooth bench to sit at, let coffee stain my teeth, and write for hours. I’m doggedly committed, disinterested in food and love and sex.
There in the café’s still, words surge from my body, one erupting after another, creating an orgasmic release of adjectives and verbs. The frenzy leaves a lexicon mess on my page. With time stopped, I meticulously go through it, chiseling out the right form.
Sometimes my prose is fierce. Other times I let melodrama cling, like satin sheets you don’t want to crawl out of. I write about food and love and sex as if they, not writing, ruled my soul. But what good are food and love and sex if they are not part of a larger tale? Writing gives my experiences eternal life. Often it’s at a solitary table that I feel the greatest sense of belonging.
Because writing makes sense of my life, weaving my past into a narrative arch. It takes into account the things I’ve done (right or wrong), people I’ve met (for a moment or a lifetime), and the choices I’ve made (calculated or impetuous).
When I used to lament all the past wrongs in my personal narrative (those wrong things, people, and choices) my mother always said, “Well it’s not necessarily wrong. Think of it as material for your book.”
This very comment has enabled me to live life fully without fear. There is no wrong. There is only more material. If I write.
So yes, Rainer Maria Rilke, I must write. It explains my existence. It reminds me that I’m alive.
So what must you do? What is that thing that you cannot live without?