Why We Write
A couple of years ago, in the wake of my mom’s triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis, I wrote a series of blog posts for the Huffington Post and then for The LIVESTRONG Foundation about what the experience was like from my perspective as a daughter.
I wrote those blogs in my head for a good long while before I actually started typing. And, then, when I came around to actually typing them and submitting them, I said a little prayer that I was doing the right thing sharing my feelings and the experience in general. But, I did it for a couple of different reasons which I knew were bigger and more important than any backlash.
Today, those blogs are old when we talk about Internet standards. They’ve lived there since 2014, 2015. And they’re all still there. People – a lot of young women, frankly – from all over the world will email me and ask about me about them. I answered a question not long ago from a young woman in Colombia whose mother was recently diagnosed. She had found one of my articles, and she felt comfortable reaching out. I’m really glad she did.
It’s funny – and funny might not be the right word for it – but no one ever (at least, not to my face) asked me why I’d be so public about the whole experience. No one ever questioned me; no one pushed back on me about why I’d write about it.
I was thinking about all that this week. There was one evening that I sat in my car in the parking lot of Bucca di Beppo. There was a warm, torrential rain storm unfolding. The windshield wipers were totally exhausted, yet deafening as I returned a call from a student who’d left a voicemail for me. She needed to talk to me. Her mom had just been diagnosed with cancer.
In that second, I knew that was one of the reasons why I wrote the posts that I did. Not so I could sit there, and tell her to go read my articles. But, so I could sit there, and say, “I understand.”
So, why do we write? Or specifically – why did I write that series?
First, I did it as a way of pulling myself off the floor of what had been a sweaty-hot and emotionally uncomfortable summer. I felt like I’d just melted into the floor, and I needed a way to, as Joan Didion says, “to find out what I think.” I think that’s why a lot of people write – to figure out what exactly is going on in there.
As well, I knew — deep down — that I wanted to tell a really, human story that wasn’t fun or pretty or sexy or easy or charming or normal. But, real. No filter. Totally real. We write because we crave more unfiltered, real stories.
Lastly, I did it in hopes it might be valuable to someone else. At the time, back in 2014 and 2015, I stopped thinking about myself long enough to consider that perhaps someone else was in this ugly slough. Because, in our case, for every woman who has breast cancer, there are husbands, partners, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, families, friends, coworkers who are struggling, too. We write for them. It’s a gift, a comfort, a hug, a blanket, a two-top table, a conversation with/for them.
We write for a lot of different reasons and seasons, but I think it comes down to this – we write to find out what we think, we write to dig and dig and dig until we uncover the unfiltered real, and we write to let someone else know that they’re not alone.