Afterthoughts #2: Gwendolyn Brooks
I have always written. Sometimes I have readers, sometimes I don't. No matter; I'm a writer, and I write. I don't worry about regularity or discipline, because I want to write often enough that I feel no need for a schedule. I've heard dreams are our brain's attempt to make order out of life. My dreams seem too chaotic for this to be true. For clarity, for finding order in chaos, I write.
Writing is visceral to me. I tried to hide it away for so many years. I decided to go all in.
Your text resonates with me. Thanks
Love this, Kate. I think about this all the time, and it's a recurring topic of discussion with my daughter who is in the middle of writing college application essays. In her case, we discuss her artwork—does art become art only when there is an audience? And in my own personal ponderings, I ask myself why do I write to an audience? I think we have both started to articulate for ourselves that any art piece, whether writing, a drawing, music, etc. can start off as a therapeutic form of self-expression certainly, but art becomes art when it connects to an audience. Suddenly, it becomes more than about you. When I thought about coming back to writing, I really needed to think about why I wanted to publish on a platform like this again. Why not just journal if I just needed an outlet to process some complicated things? I admit that sometimes it seems self indulgent and at worst, narcissistic and I question it all. But then you get the comments, the emails, the spontaneous conversations sparked by friends who refer to something that you wrote. It validates that we don't write into a void—usually :) At the end of the day, what we crave are these connections.
I have been writing for years, in the certain knowledge that no one would ever read those words. It's a compulsion, a vital form of self-expression. Sometimes I read back over those pages and pages of words and can't believe that some of them came from me. (Some of them feel all-too-familiar.) But, just as I feel the osmotic power of all the as yet unread books on my shelves, so those words I've written privately form a whispering chorus in support of whatever I write now.
Wow, that video at the end. The Boston accent, the reality of the situation he was in that the poem just spoke to...powerful.
I really appreciate you diving deeper into the subject of your Sunday newsletter, Kate. My only knowledge of GB is actually Maud Martha, which I think is beautiful. So it was a real treat to be inspired to dive off into her poetry. The video of the young guy from Boston discussing the significance of We real cool is very moving, and I then was led on to a paper-cut animation of the poem over GB's recitation. Thank you, a happy tea break rabbit-hole!
I see my writing as a conversation. I don’t write for myself. I’m always writing with someone else in mind--to communicate what I’m feeling, thinking, or imagining. It’s a way to express myself in relationship to others. That’s why I struggle so with journaling. I feel like I should journal more, but no one’s reading it, so it feels inauthentic to me.
At 61 I finally quit my teaching job and went all in with the one thing I do that brings real, deep joy--writing. I’m floundering financially and may need to return to the classroom at some point, but love the year-long-now writing regimen I’ve established--the daily routine of wrestling with words. It is a real need for many of us especially as the world seems to fray and come undone in so many ways; writers work to put the world back together.
Finally had a chance to read. Really enjoying this series! I think we discover so much in research that doesn't fit into the 'article' we are creating. Love these marginalia and personal reflections.
Fascinating that she was getting advice from Langston Hughes. Wow! But it also shows - in your comment - that you have to decide what advice to take. There's so much out there and you also have the power within to create your own.
So so many amazing creators evolve or were 'discovered' (or started creating) after 40, after 50, after 60...it's really good to keep this perspective in our work. And even more important, as you discuss, that your work can keep evolving. None of us are stuck in a style (though a trad publisher might want to keep you that way!). The beauty of Substack and independent publishing is that writers can evolve without the acceptance of the market. I mean, this has always been the case and why Joyce was so poor :) But there's more opportunity now for the new Joyces of the world to share their work.
Thanks for this great read and so pleased for your recent feature by Substack! This just shows again why it's so well deserved.
I enjoyed this thank you! I listened to the voiceover. Love that substack has this feature.