Getting It Out

A Writing Man

There was a time when all I could do well was write. Journals. Songs. Letters. Emails. I wrote abundantly in all these mediums. I was proud of my writing. I said I wrote because I enjoyed writing. I did enjoy writing but I also wrote because I wasn’t good at expressing myself verbally.

My dad tells me that he used to become frustrated when I was younger because he felt that he couldn’t get me to express myself. He’d ask blunt questions about my day and my experiences and I’d give minimalist answers. “Yes.” “No.” “It was fun.” I’d rarely dive deep into my feelings. My feelings were a quagmire that I could barely negotiate. I wasn’t going to let anyone else in there.

Mom was better at it; her approach less direct. I used to hang out in the kitchen while she made supper or baked desserts for bible study. She’d make leading statements and I’d confirm the things she already suspected. Her superpower, besides having a sixth sense that I still don’t understand, was that she was able to probe my brain without me knowing she was doing it. To me, we were just chatting about everything and nothing.

Back then I didn’t talk to strangers. To be honest, I still don’t much, but I’m open to it. I found small talk difficult. I took people’s words at face value, not realizing that half of the conversation is in what we don’t say. I had a hard time revealing myself and my desires and my feelings to anyone.

In college, I’d sit in a group of people listening to the conversations happening around me, unable to interject, my brain on fire. Walking from one class to another with a schoolmate I didn’t know very well was a nightmare. Hundreds of possible conversation starters would go through my head and never make it out of my mouth because it was locked shut, an impenetrable steel door deep in my throat. The overriding idea becoming ever more clear to everyone involved was, “well, this is awkward.” I was a middle-schooler frozen in an attempt to talk to someone I was attracted to. Except I was in my twenties and I was attracted to everyone.

Things don’t stay buried in the conscious though. They get themselves out somehow. Luckily I found writing. Luckily I picked up a guitar and figured out how to write songs. I might have gone crazy otherwise. Who knows? I might have actually exploded. A backlog of millions of words might have crammed up my brain and melted it. I might have become that guy from the meme whose head is slowly slipping through his hands.

I wrote things down on paper and read them to myself and magically felt instantly better. When I wrote my brain worked differently. It was unbridled. My hands could hardly keep pace with it. Instead of getting chunked up with debris, it sorted through disparate trains of thought and fed them out in an orderly fashion that was manageable. Instead of all these trains smashing into one another creating a mess impossible to navigate, they simply chugged along on their tracks until the appropriate time and then chugged their way onto the paper at which point I could see them and make sense of them and let them go.

In relationships, I was always the one to write long letters. In-person, I’d fail to communicate. Then I’d unload it in a letter leaving the other person reeling. Unapologetically, I’d say things like, “That’s just how I’m built.” It’s easier to write than it is to work on yourself. Then when the relationship was over I’d write songs about it, saying all the things I couldn’t in person. Writing songs is easy when the stakes are low.

Writing has been a blessing for me. Writing has been a curse too. I’ve used it as a way of expressing myself. I’ve used it as a way of not expressing myself. Keeping things in doesn’t really happen, does it? People act out. Other people say mean things. Other people get drunk. Other people write. It’s all an effort to unclog the clogs. Knowing that I can write out the clogs is like a little dirty secret sometimes. I can go through life thinking, “I’m going to have such a great unclogging when I get to my journal tonight!”

It’s great for me but it often leaves everyone else in the dark. Most of what I write isn’t on the internet, or in letters. I write emails to myself and find them years later. I write in journals that nobody reads. I get myself cleared of clogs and I’m all good but important people in my life are scratching their heads, wondering.

I’ve had to work to be able to do the very basic human thing that is speaking my thoughts out loud. I’ve had to realize that journals and emails don’t talk back and can’t offer the same insight that another person can. Paper is never offended by my tone of voice, or by the thoughts I write on it. Paper is passive. Paper accepts everything I throw at it with equal dispassion. Paper is an empty void, useful for making space in my brain, but ultimately not a great teacher.

My wife on the other hand is active, passionate, and full of her own ideas. Anything I express verbally to her bounces back with some new twist or turn. I am capable of offending her and hurting her feelings with the things I say and with the tone I use to say them. Being a defensive human, I am likewise able to be offended by her counters. I’m also able to build her up. I’m also able to receive new information from her.

The blank page will never do anything but relieve the growing chaos in my brain. Sometimes conversation creates more chaos, but it may be a necessary kind of chaos. There are things that need to be said. The blank page is a willing recipient for those and that’s all. There are ideas that need to be corrected. The blank page can’t do that. For that, I need a person. For that, I need to speak out loud.

It’s easy to hide between the blue lines. It’s easy to defrag in that way. Sometimes the easy things are important. They are an environment inductive to a state of flow and that’s a good thing. But sometimes the easy things lead to little growth and no change. The easy way is a path in which fears are compounded and false ideas flourish.

I started writing because I was too afraid to speak. I was afraid that my ideas and my person would be rejected. I was afraid of my own voice. Writing was a safe place to develop that voice. It would be easy to stay there in that safe place forever and keep saying things like, “That’s just how I’m built.” It would be easy to stay there and never invite the opportunity for correction and change.

In the words of the character, James Murray in the film, “The Lost City of Z”, “I refuse to accept this madness. I refuse it!” I refuse to accept fear. I refuse to accept stagnancy. I refuse to be a closed book. I refuse the safety of my warm hiding place. Instead, I speak the things in my mind and in my heart. I speak them to my wife because she deserves to know me. I speak them to her because I deserve to be challenged. I speak them to her because I refuse to hide from her.

They say it takes courage to be a good writer. It takes courage because you have to reveal yourself. You have to let the reader into your embarrassing, incorrect, fearful world and you may never know what they really think about it. I speak to develop the courage muscle. I speak to banish fear. I speak to invite criticism. I speak so that maybe, someday, it’ll make me a better writer.

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songwriter/fine fellow/writer of things/author of one book, “Wrestling The Rhinoceros”. Look for it on Amazon.

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Tim Pepper

Tim Pepper

songwriter/fine fellow/writer of things/author of one book, “Wrestling The Rhinoceros”. Look for it on Amazon.

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