why i write: pfam blog carnival

{disclaimer: written at a crossroads (literally and figuratively), the question Sharon posed for this PFAM blog carnival, “Why do you write?” couldn’t have been more appropriate, more thought-provoking, more heart-wrenching, more rambling, and right now, more late! Sorry, Sharon, here I go again!}

I remember a poem:

Hold fast to dreams,

for if dreams die,

life is a broken winged bird

that cannot fly.

I know I’ve let my original/initial dreams go (part of dealing with chronic illness is coping with losing some dreams while striving to find new ones). I’ve had to let most of my blogging go (using the keyboard/mouse leads to a cascade of pain in addition to dealing with a mental health crisis), drastically cut back on facebook, and the amount of time I spend visiting and commenting on other folks blogs, or participate in online communities.

But I still write; I scratch away in my notebooks and on scraps of paper the various parts of my mystery novel (and the sequels that seem to be popping up even before the original is even finished); ideas for blogs; poetry; observations; reminders to myself; grocery lists; lists of things to do and/or remember. And, I “write” in my mind all the time as a distraction from physical and/or emotional pain. Sometimes I remember enough of these mental essays to commit them to paper; other times only snippets of a verse, a character sketch, or chronic observation makes it onto the page (this was true when I used the computer more too!).

In going through the relics of some of my former lives housed in my mother’s basement, I found notebooks, prose, and poetry written from the late 1970s through to the mid 1980s. I’ve always been a writer (my poetry and prose doesn’t seem to be something my parents held on to); perhaps it comes from always being a reader. I remember in elementary school (probably around grade 5 or 6 when I was already sneaking the mystery novels my parents took out from the library into my room to read), graduate education students had permission to test the reading levels of the kids in various classes at our school. (I don’t know if the researchers were doing the same at other schools with different demographics or socio-economic backgrounds or no.) I was the “best” reader in the class; the researchers determined that I was reading (and I read fast) and retaining at a college level.

I’m not including this to puff up my currently bruised ego, but as a lead in to the writing part. It was probably the same year that we were to write a “spooky” story for Halloween. The teacher contacted my mother after reading my story, concerned about the subject material, etc. Of course, I had to confess to mom that I had been reading the Agatha Christie and other mystery novelists for quite some time, and thus had lots of ideas on how to construct a “spooky” story. I remember filling notebooks and my mind with plot ideas for whatever my favourite television show (or movie) of the time was, ranging, for example from Mary Poppins and Star Wars to Star Trek, and Bonanza.

From 1987 to 2004, I was involved in writing through going back to university, then on to academia and public relations. In those capacities, I put my writing out into the public areana through teaching, presenting papers at conferences, giving talks, creating informational and instructional materials, helping to organize conferences, giving presentations to clients, etc. So, my writing had a public face, but it could be said that it came from my soul. Fueled by extensive research, the “appropriateness” of the situation, the “audience,” and other factors, although the writing reflected my personality, it was the “public” me; the “private” me (when there was time) occasionally jotted down an idea or two. The focus always remained more on the content and the audience than on me as the writer/presenter.

So, I guess, given this background, it’s not too surprising that when I discovered blogging, that I would try to write in this new medium. I began with little or no idea about how to blog, let alone what to blog about. Through the advice and example of the bloggers I met early on in the process, (I owe many debts of gratitude, and shouts out to so many folks there in the cyberverse) I tentatively set out to blog on chronic pain from the perspective of alternative therapies and complementary medicines. However, without the financial resources to actually experience many of these therapies, my blogging was based on research and the experiences of others. Sometimes, “me” slipped out but I was struggling with just how much of “me” I should incorporate into my blog posts.

Then, life intervened (as it would many times in the twists and turns and dead ends my current blog has taken). I shouldn’t have been surprised; the tag line for my blog is: chronic pain, life, and all that, LOL. My own depression, my mother’s decent into dementia and her death had me blogging on things other than chronic pain or alternative therapies. My blog became about life as what I call myself – a chronic – and all the raw, ugly things I was (or wasn’t) dealing with. Blog carnivals, such as this one, again forced me to reveal more of myself. I blog under a thinly-veiled pseudonym and the “real” people in my life don’t know I blog. I even participated in month-long blog fests, like WEGO Health’s #HAWMC health writers challenge in 2010 (pain and mental health issues stopped me from participating in the 2011 version). I joined online communities and began to open myself up further. Then poet in me came to the surface again; poetry as well as prose inspired by the carry-on tuesday blog.

But, I still haven’t answered Sharon’s basic question: “why do I {as someone dealing with chronic illness/chronic pain} write?” I guess because I can’t keep all the words, the feelings, the observations, the ponderings, the what ifs, the private inside. In many ways, I never did. The private me always shaped and informed what I wrote from the first paper I turned in as an undergraduate when I went back to finish university at age 30, in lectures for introductory history classes, or instructional manuals to help make graduate students be better teaching assistants and students be better writers, researchers, and communicators. The “I” was in a public talk I gave in a lecture series in hono(u)r of my graduate supervisor; it was in the promotional and instructional material I prepared for clients, or a companion (then a revised to reflect changing teaching technologies and edits to the original textbooks) teaching guide for a two volume history of Canada. “I” was in there: my values and belief systems; how I saw the world (past, present, and future); what and who influenced, inspired, and informed me. It was there in how I constructed my sentences, organized my paragraphs, laid out my research and argued my analysis.

Reading poems I wrote in my early 20s, I see the similarities and vast differences between the person I was then and the person I am now. Many things, not the least of which is chronic pain and chronic illness, have shaped me; formed me; built me up and tore me down. Even in my “early” works, pain (both emotional and physical not yet on today’s scale) figure prominently. In the chronic illness community, I have found a public outlet for the private me in ways I never dreamed possible when I wrote those poems; to make the private public and the public private. So, while I hope (and wish) what I write makes folks stop and think, entertains, informs, delights, sends people off in new directions or points them towards a specific space/spot, I realize that more and more, I write for me. It’s therapeutic, cathartic, spiritual, essential. Now, I would wonder why I didn’t write.