On Why I Write

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 - 1:02pm

Mrs. Brush's copy of the "Bell Jar"

Mrs. Brush's copy of the "Bell Jar" Buy this photo
Courtesy of the author

So, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately… Whenever my life gets really messy or whatever, I turn to writing to kind of just detach from everything that’s happening all around me. It’s like this super cathartic practice I’ve taken up over the years to decompress and flush a bunch of things from my head all at once. I’m never as well-spoken as I’d like to be in person. Like … okay, honestly? I’m literally the furthest possible thing from well-spoken, but it’s for this exact reason that I’ve come to write as much as I do. Outside the realm of academics, my writing doesn’t have to follow any specific form or tone. I can be as formal or as casual as I’d like to be, as flowery or as vulgar as is needed of me. I really end up just writing about anything, honestly.

 

The other day I was on the phone with my mom and I asked her about the meaning of my name: Vĩnh Khang Huỳnh. Vĩnh means “eternal" or “infinite," while Khang means “health” and “prosperity.” Huỳnh just represents a family name distantly linked to royalty. I wrote about my own name for damn near an hour before I remembered that I had a life outside of writing I had to care for. I just really liked thinking about the concept of some infinitely bountiful sense of well-being marked by the subtleties of royalty being carried on through my own name. Writing plummets me down deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole of self-reflection. I’ve come to learn that asking myself why I am the way that I am and why I do the things that I do is the most surefire means toward both understanding myself and learning to do the same for others. The two questions that’ve had me parading about in my feels the most have been: “Why do I choose to write so much?” and “What exactly do I gain from of all of it?”

 

So, throwback to my first day of sophomore year of high school. I find the classroom where my first-period English class is being taught and go to grab a seat toward the back, next to the wall. Eventually, a woman walks in, introduces herself as Ms. Brush and welcomes us all to her English class. I guess she really wasn’t trying to shoot the shit that morning, given that she just skipped right past the whole icebreaker and syllabus-recitation tradition and had us all pull out pieces of paper. Our assignment for that first morning of class was to write a letter addressed to anyone, living or dead, about any possible topic under the sun. I wrote my letter to a friend of mine, knowing full well that he would never read it since I obviously had to turn it in at the end of class. I gave myself the freedom to write about every little thing on my mind, so much so that I forgot that it was an actual assignment.

 

The next day in class, Brush sat at the front of the room and called our names out one by one as she handed back our letters. I don’t remember exactly what she told me, but I remember that she complimented me both on how my voice shined through the letter as well as my choice in expletives. I walked up to the room to grab my letter, flustered and embarrassed as all hell. I was never the type of student to be noticed for anything in class, so it felt strange to be recognized for something like my voice by someone I had just met the day before.

 

As the term rolled on, we would be asked to submit these mini-reports on the stuff we were supposed to be reading for class. To be honest, I never actually … well … read the books or anything. I just went on to SparkNotes and half-assed the assignment. In addition to these reports, we were also given the option to include a feedback portion at the end where we could write about our own thoughts and opinions on the book. The scammer residing inside my very soul obviously took the easy way out by forming the bulk of those book reports around what I thought of the books themselves since I obviously wasn’t going to provide any sort of detailed literary analysis or anything. To my surprise, Brush would leave a lot of her own feedback on the backs of my essays in addition to detailed critiques on my grammar and sentence structure. She offered me a lot of encouragement in these critiques too. She always told me to keep writing because there was something different and unique about my voice. I would later find out from friends that she was wondering what she could do to break me out of my shell and make me feel more comfortable with speaking out more, either in class or to her directly.

 

See, the thing you really gotta know about Brush is that she understood people, often times without them even having to say a word. On top of all of that, she was explosive. Like an entire canister of Fourth of July fireworks going off all at once. She cursed like a sailor, but always made sure to blow her F-bombs away from the presence of administration. She was the embodiment of life contained inside the body of one middle-aged white woman. Maybe this was why she was tight with all of the troublemakers in school. Every so often a kid would walk into our class telling her that they got sent out for “insubordination or whatever”, and Brush would always let them cool off and chill in her room for the hour while she taught. She would tell us that a lot of these kids have real shitty lives at home, and teachers usually didn’t know how to handle them in class. But Brush was able to understand them. I wasn’t a troublemaker by any means, but I think Brush could see that writing could become something important to me. She was passing out papers one day, and when she got to me, she slipped me this additional packet. It was a long list of books that were commonly tested on the AP Lang and Lit exams. She wrote me a letter on the back saying that if I didn’t care to read any of the books we were required to read for class, perhaps I would enjoy one or two of the books on this list. I ended up reading quite a few of the books on that list. Like, yes. ACTUALLY reading them! Every time I’d finish one, I’d type her up a book review even though it wasn’t an assignment or worth a grade. I’d fill it to the brim with my thoughts and opinions, and on the backs of every single review, she would tell me her own thoughts and opinions of the book as well as more advice on improving my writing.

 

One of my favorite books I read for Brush was "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath. I really connected with Esther Greenwood through her many mental breakdowns and inevitable spiral into depression like… girl… same… big mood. On the back of that book review, Brush left me a note asking if I wrote for fun anywhere, like on a blog or something. She told me that she would be willing to read something like that daily. I remember rushing home from school that day to make a new Tumblr page for my writing. I filled the page up with stuff I had written beforehand and the day after, I handed Brush a note with the URL on it. That blog honestly became a diary, but I did my best to retain some sort of "writerly professionalism". I’d write about my family or how my day went, about how I was afraid of failure and not doing well on upcoming tests. More than anything, I would write a lot about how I was afraid of the future, and where I would find myself in it. Brush read all of these entries and gave me a lot of life advice in her replies on the backs of my reading responses. For once, it felt like somebody could finally understand a lot of the angst and sadness I desperately kept hidden from the world. On the night before the last day of school, I wrote Ms. Brush this long ass letter. I don’t remember exactly what I said in it; I think it was just me thanking her for everything that she had taught  and done for me during the year and how happy I was to always come to her class and how I couldn’t wait to see her again next year and just a bunch of other sweet and sentimental things. A few weeks later she left me a message on my Tumblr, telling me that the letter I wrote for her was was “THE. BEST. EVER.” She said that she would first catch up on reading my blog posts, then write me back afterward, ending her message with “More later…”.

 

As patiently as I could and for however many days passed, I waited. I was so excited to eventually get to hear back from her that I was totally geeking the hell out! I lowkey had my tumblr inbox bookmarked so I could just click directly to it instead of having to type in the URL every time I wanted to check. It was actually during this whole wait that I would learn that the promise of “More later” had unwillingly crumbled, breaking apart as quickly as it had come into existence. Headline after headline bombarding my phone through screenshots and frantic texts, one after another after another:

 

“Rollover crash snarls traffic on U.S.-23 near Washtenaw Ave.”

Grand Rapids woman killed in Sunday afternoon rollover crash on U.S.-23”

“East Kentwood High School teacher killed Sunday afternoon in rollover crash” It’s still as surreal five years later as it was in the moment it all happened.“More later” resides inside me like some crippling weight, reminding me of its presence like a perpetually dripping faucet. I do my best to tighten the screws and keep all of this water from dripping and sometimes it works and things are okay, but damn... when that faucet does decide to drip… holy hell does it fucking drip…

 

The thing that sucks the most about death is how final it all is. Like yeah no shit, death is everywhere. People die all the time and you can’t really do anything about it, but it’s just so different when it happens to somebody so close to you. I wanted so badly for her to hold a continuing presence in my ongoing future, but the thing about death is that it doesn’t care if you had plans for the future or hopes for some definitive tomorrow. It doesn’t take into account any of your dreams or aspirations. It just takes and it takes and it takes. Everything and all at once. If there’s one thing you need to know about grief, it’s that the whole 5 stages thing is kind of bullshit. Or at the very least, they aren’t linear by any means. Sometimes I’ll be walking down a street to get to class at 1 pm on a Tuesday afternoon and she crosses my mind and I see her as this entity somewhere out there and she’s calm and happy and at peace and for that brief moment, so am I. Other times it’ll be 4:45 in the morning and I’m so overwhelmed by this grief I still carry over her that I stay up until I can hear the birds singing just to write about everything I feel.

 

I guess I do all of this writing because I’ve been confronted with the reality that I have nearly an infinite amount of things I want to say yet only a finite amount of time to say them. Writing continues to allow me to cope with the presence of all of this emotion I keep welled up inside of me. It allows me to say all that I need to say regardless of whether there is somebody there to listen or not. Ms. Brush never had all the time she needed to say the things she wanted to, so in a way, when I write, I write for her. Every early morning musing, every glazy eyed reverie, every piece of writing is a constantly ticking reminder of this finite span of time.

 

So yeah… I write a bunch… all the time…  honestly just about a metric fuck ton of ramblings about literally anything, but I do it all for a reason, or at least I believe that I do. Writing is the one thing I can do to guarantee me the privilege of conducting a conversation with some of the greatest minds who have or will have ever lived. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t always this monumentally enjoyable task. Writing can be really shitty and annoying, both while you’re doing it as well as when you’re looking down at the results of it, but I don’t think it can ever truly outright fail you. An appreciation of good writing is the appreciation of life through its many intricacies. We reflect on life by revisiting only its peaks and troughs; these extremes of emotion and significance. What writing does is highlight and document everything in between these moments. Like how when a baby cries in some echoey building like a church and between each wince-inducing wail exists only the most deafening silence. Where writing shines most is through its ability to magnify these moments in between, allowing us to experience life how we normally wouldn’t. I already have enough to write about with regards to these aforementioned highs and lows, but writing as an art is always asking, if not demanding me to say more.

 

I guess I do all of this writing because I’ve been confronted with the reality that I have nearly an infinite amount of things I want to say yet only a finite amount of time to say them. Writing continues to allow me to cope with the presence of all of this emotion I keep welled up inside of me. It allows me to say all that I need to say regardless of whether there is somebody there to listen or not.Ms. Brush never had all the time she needed to say the things she wanted to, so in a way, when I write, I write for her. Every early morning musing, every glazy eyed reverie, every piece of writing is a constantly ticking reminder of this finite span of time.

 

I have to come to terms with the fact that at my very core, I am a deeply unhappy person, but writing is what allows me to confront this sadness residing within me. It’s helped me realize that my pain and loss are not unique in the scope of humanity. Many have loved and lost and suffered in magnitudes that dwarf mine by a wide margin, but I don’t say this to delegitimize my pain or anything. I say this to allow me to put this lingering pain into perspective: This world is not fair in the slightest, but it’s precisely for this reason why we must be. I’m doing my best to grow. I’m trying each and every day to become a better person than I was the day before in spite of the weight of all of this pain I still hold inside of me. If this all has taught me anything, it’s that I am alive. Holy fucking hell am I alive, and I want to do my best to make as much out of it as I can. This all sounds so goddamned cheesy but let me live, alright? I’m finishing this piece up on the tail end of Cancer season ON TOP OF the whole blood moon retrograde shit we got going on. I gotta get this truckload of feelings out somehow, don’t I?... And so I write.

 

As often and as much as I can.

 

And it helps a whole lot... though I never really am just writing for only myself. How I see it, See, to be a writer is to live for others as much as, if not more than, to live for yourself. I’ve come to the realization that, as a writer, it’s become my responsibility to endure the difficulties of life; to brazenly carry the burdens it may place upon me so that I can live to write about them in the hopes that somebody, anybody out there can connect with what I have to say. I write so that this unbearable weight of simply being can be distributed throughout my words as opposed to being carried across my shoulders. I want to write in a way that reveals the fleeting nature behind the sense of isolation we are so often consumed by in times of hopelessness, and how it all so gently dissipates in the face of understanding, knowing that somebody can recognize the presence of the pain residing inside of you. Writing is, without a doubt, the most profound display of empathy I could ever hope to convey.

 

Death really does mess with your head. It makes you think a lot about where people go when they die; where their spirit resides after the whole decomposition thing is over. I mean, at least it does for me. The Laws of Thermodynamics come up in literally every class I’ve taken at some point or another. The one law that always caught my attention was the first one that states that the total amount of energy in a system is at a constant. It’s neither created or destroyed, but rather, it just cycles through different forms and manifestations. Do you think this holds true for the energy contained inside of a person’s spirit? I probably ask myself this same question every other week.

 

Brush seemed to radiate this aura of warmth and acceptance. I think it was a result of all of the love and understanding she was able to show to others. I’d like to think that all of that loving energy is being put to good use now, infinitely cycling itself through the world, searching for its next set of manifestations. On the back of my book review on The Bell Jar, Ms. Brush ended her letter back to me with, “Continue to read and most importantly, continue to write ... You are a bright young man with an infinite future. You may not talk much in class, but you have much to say.

 

I still have yet to uncover the nature of my own personal infinity, but the impact that Brush was able to leave upon my life in the one brief year she was present in it truly was, above all else, absolutely fucking infinite.