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Warning: this post might not be uplifting. But I hope it is thought-provoking and moving.
I have been reading Georges Perec's W, or The Memory of Childhood. I'm almost finished. The book alternates between Perec trying to recall his childhood, and the description of a mythical island off Tierra del Fuego called W, where the pursuit of the Olympic ideal is the sole purpose of existence, athletic competition the only occupation, where victory is praised and feted but fleeting, and those who did not prevail are mocked and punished, even if they are previous victors. (Perec's childhood was during the Nazi invasion and occupation of France; the story of the island of W is an allegory of those atrocities.) Perec's father passed away when he was very young--and, a few years after, his mother put him on a train in order to save him from capture. He later discovered that his mother died on a train en rote to Auschwitz shortly thereafter. He was raised by his father's sister and her husband.

At one point he addresses his personal need to write in relation to the events of his childhood, his lack of memories of his parents, and how his writing life might be intertwined with his own search for emotions about his parents:

"I do not know whether I have anything to say, I know that I am saying nothing; I do not know if what I might have to say is unsaid because it is unsayable (the unsayable is not buried inside writing, it is what prompted it in the first place); I know that what I say is blank, is neutral, is a sign, once and for all, of a once-and-for-all annihilation.
That is what I am saying, that is what I am writing, and that's all there is in the words I trace and in the lines the words make and in the blanks that the gaps between the lines create: it would be quite pointless to hunt down my slips (for instance, I wrote "I committed" instead of "I made", a propos of my mistakes in copying down my mother's name), or to muse for hours on the length of my father's capote... for all I shall ever find in my very reiteration is the final refraction of a voice that is absent from writing, the scandal of their silence and of mine. I am not writing in order to say that I shall say nothing, I am not writing to say that I have nothing to say. I write: I write because we lived together, because I was one amongst them, a shadow amongst their shadows, a body close to their bodies. I write because they left in me their indelible  mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life."

I read that section and I think of myself, and I think of all my writer friends and all my writer non-friends (writers I don't know personally). Not because we share the same background or childhood as Perec--we don't, even those who lost their parents at a young age don't share his background--but because that is why we write: to express our emotions, or to be able to express our lack of emotions, to be able to understand our own convoluted and self-absorbed search for ourselves, for our emotional connection to the world. We write to keep alive that part of us we don't show others, that part of us we wish to keep alive that isn't anymore, to keep alive other people.

I write to keep alive the memory of my grandfather, the memories that others have of him, of him slipping quarters into my brother's jacket as they walked down the beach, my brother, upon finding them, believing he had a magical jacket. I write to keep alive my own memories of my grandfather's and our many, multi-layered handshakes: the lumberjack, milking the cow, rowing the boat, and the customary, American handshake, among others; I write to keep alive the memory of my grandmother washing dishes in pearls and a dress, of eating an entire 2 pound box of Froot Loops in one sitting as a snack (she and I did this); and, lastly, I now write as a means to keep alive the memory of my own father, of Bowling for People, which consisted of rolling rubber balls at a ten-pin set up of Weebles (they wobble but they don't fall down), of cursing at hockey referees, of installing sliding windows until nine o'clock on a hot, summer night, of midnight bowls of cereal watching MST3K.

Steve Almond wrote that we write "to arouse the anguish hidden inside us, the bad news of our hearts." I would also say we do it to keep alive the memories of those who have formed us, for, unwittingly or not, they helped create this compulsion to share those parts of us we ourselves don't understand; they helped to form this compulsion to write.

 


Comments

03/29/2011 07:24

I felt that this post was in fact very uplifting, as odd as this may seem. The thought provocation of it outweighs any negative thoughts that it may bring to the forefront. I always felt that when i myself wrote, I was doing it to tell a story or just to release whatever feelings I had inside me at the moment. After reading this however, I realized that I too, write for the same reason. Even though I am only 18 and have not written anything significantly meaningful, it still meant alot to me, becuase i was able to write down a piece of me that now forever will be there, indirectly also allowing for a piece of somebody else to be there too. Although as stated writers do not all come from the same backgrounds at all, it does not take away from the fact that everything written down is a memory of someone or something that influenced them to write in the first place. This was a very humbling thought, one that I have to thank this post for revealing to me.

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Regina Hernandez
03/29/2011 07:27

I like that he writes to keep the memories alive of those who he cares deeply about like his grandfather, grandmother, and father. I write because I love to express my feelings through a story because it's an easier way of saying everything that you wouldn't normally say to a person. Also, because you can make up a story about anything and lets your imagination grow.

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Raeven Sharp
03/29/2011 07:43

Writing as always been a release; a way to express your emotions, views, and thoughts either through litereature or song. I understand how many people write just for the fun of it, but when you actually sit back and contemplate the meaning behind your story, characters and events, you see that it is a reflection of your life. I consider myself to be a very observant person, probably as observant as cheetah preying on an antelope. I remember smells, feelings, images, colors, and personalities. Books are my outlook into new worlds and writing is my escape into the depths of my mind that inevitably are hard to release. I write to forget, to release, escape and prosper into the individual I want to be.

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Kimberly Bell
03/29/2011 07:50

I enjoyed reading this post, because I too can relate to what he is saying. Although I write for numerous reasons. I write for the memories of people who have impacted me or made a difference in my life too. Even though they may not seem significant to some, but they are everything to me. I write for all the broken hearts I created and all those who broke my heart. I write for the inspiring artists and the hopeful dancers. I write for the dreamers and the dream chasers. I write for the memories that I wish I could forget, but that never go away. I write for the moments that feel so surreal, you have to question what is reality. I write to stay sane to express what I am to afraid to say verbally I write to escape a cruel world where someone else decides your faith. I write so that I can make sense of my ideals and show views from the other points not previously seen. I write for emotion and I write for self identity, for every word, I write, is somewhat a piece of me how ever small or how ever large;--but always significant and unique in every way imaginable, that is why I write.

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Cedisha Pitts
03/29/2011 08:04

He writes so that he can remember.I really like this! He wants memories. He wants memories from his grandfather." write because they left in me their indelible mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life."-he basiclly writes with hopes of keeping them alive with his words and special moments with them. I write because, I like it sometimes, I write to record important events sometimes.Its not safe to use technology to write(computer,ipod,ipad) anything could happen. Its better to just locate a pencil/pen.

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DeShann Cross
03/29/2011 09:04

This post made me relize something about myself. I too thought that I wrote to express my inner, deeper feelings and to release emotion that I had bottled up inside of me. I thought that I wrote to let those memories go and to finally move on but I now realize and understand that those momories are in fact the ones I want to remember and hold on to forever. Those words that I write on paper aren't meant to be forgotten because those memories that I hold on to has made me who I am today. I really apreciate this post and the man who wrote it because it has opened my eyes to myself. I too am only 18 and have been through alot so far, in life. It is beautiful to me how everyone is different and how no two people have the same exact background or life story. No one has lived a life of anoter and tis is what makes this world such a diverse place. I write to keep my past alive!

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Stefani Silva
04/06/2011 08:15

I believe that this post was an eye-opener. It really showed me there are many different influences on a writers works. I like how this writer in particular write to remember things and people from his past. Most people write to release any emotions they have towards something that happened in their lives, people, or any ideas.
The small excerpt was enlightening. It was very different from anything I had read. Simply because of the meaning of the work as a whole. I am very appreciative for the different meanings put into all he has written.

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QuDarious Howard
04/06/2011 08:28

My writing comes from my inner child; I often choose not to express myself because I'm a quite person. When I write, it most likely has something to do with how I feel, or what I would have done in some random situation. Sometimes I write about my grandfather because he was the one who kept me out of trouble by making play football. He is the only person who knows the real me, and I have the fondest memories with him. I write about my struggling mother to because she is a strong individual. The thing I write about the most is the future because I'm looking forward to being a great person, and I believe all of my hard work will payoff one day. Writing for me is a relaxing time, and it keeps me calm in many situations.

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