Why I write

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 6:17pm

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Illustration by Emily Koffsky

I remember standing in the shade of an olive tree in Panathinaiko Stadium Square, sweat dripping down my face, trying to hail a cab. Classes had just gotten out for the day, and I was making my way to my cousin Zoe’s apartment. I was studying abroad at The Athens Centre in Athens, Greece, the summer after my freshman year at the University of Michigan. At this time, I felt left at odds about what I wanted to do, not only with my undergraduate career, but also in the years to come — the classic clueless freshman story.

I was going through a turbulent period, a dark hour caused by numerous things including the loss of people and things dear to my identity, partnered with other stress factors and a stress fracture (which helped to put an end to my running career). All these were magnified by my immersion in a familiarly unfamiliar city. I sought comfort in doing safe and routine things.

Every day after class was the same: walk to the stadium and try my hand at hailing a cab. However, what happened next was far from ordinary, and, oddly enough, helped push me to the next phase of my life.

Every day I’d encounter a different cab driver, and more often than not they’d tell me their story. I soon discovered that the economic crisis in Greece had cost many people their careers, and everyone from academics to lawyers had turned to jobs like cab driving to earn a living.

My curiosity in politics grew with each conversation, and I watched the news with great disappointment: The journalists had nothing on the cab drivers. These cab drivers gave me an insight of the city I couldn’t get anywhere else. I found their stories to be so fascinating that I’d relay them to anyone. One day, over Indian takeout, Zoe, who would often listen to me ramble, mentioned in passing that I really should write these down. I shrugged.

*****

Later that night, I took out my journal that had remained relatively untouched since being gifted to me a year earlier. I always had an affinity for writing and my love for it started back in high school. For me, writing can bring forward the weakest and most sensitive parts of the soul, and in doing so one has to face unpleasant truths. That’s the power of words. They can fit together like perfect puzzle pieces to form streams of thought that have the potential to be insanely beautiful or break your heart. That past year there were too many changes, too many things on my mind that I was afraid to face, and I had been avoiding the one thing that I knew was going to help me.

These threads came together when I forced myself to sit down and write. However, nothing came out. I thought that writing about the cab driver wearing an all-white tux that proposed to me that day was whimsical and harmless, but I couldn’t find the first word to put down. “Writer’s block.” My frustration grew, but I finally found a good place to start.

“Maybe if I just start writing I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be.”

I scribbled this line underneath the date. That line led to an overflow of everything — pages of writing that seemed to go on endlessly.

Once I started I couldn’t stop — I still can’t. That wasn’t my first journal, but that time, it felt different. It became therapeutic. Prior to that, running had been my main source of meditation, but at that point, I was injured. That summer I found that I’ll always have my journal and my pen which is enough to make all the difference, even when I’m at my lowest.

I started to play with different styles, different ways of telling stories, and found poetry to be my favorite way to express intense emotions and prose to accompany dilemmas and streams of consciousness.

As a young writer, I am extremely subject to the influence of authors I read and the editors I have. I was truly fortunate to have a language and literature teacher back in high school that really seemed to believe in me. I was introduced to George Orwell and his works, specifically “Politics and the English Language” (basically his guide to writing), and others, which I fell in love with (read: my title).

*****

Something that I have always taken very seriously is honesty — honesty in interpersonal relationships, and honesty in writing. The latter is the only way to get down to the root of an issue and confront it head-on. It’s also the best way for the truth to be expressed.

My sophomore year I joined The Michigan Daily’s news and sports staffs. I was compelled by my reawakened passion for writing and my love of honest storytelling. It was still helping me heal, and felt productive. I am a very private person, and for me, writing pieces that are about anyone but me felt good. Reporting stories and including any relevant fact in an objective way took time and is a constantly developing skill. These experiences transcend the newspaper and carry over into my personal craft, helping me write and edit myself better every time I pull out my journal.

I view my writing — whether it’s personal or professional — as marking monuments in my life. I feel things more completely when I write them down. My mind clears up and my logic surfaces. These landmarks show me when I was able to look myself in the mirror and identify the stranger and the enemy that we can often turn into. It keeps me sane.

This was about three years ago. Since then my pen has seen it all — anxiety, loss, anger — just as much as happiness, success and my dreams. Now, facing graduation in about a month, I am again at a crossroad in my life, this time there are no cab drivers to help me get to where I need to be, but my instinct and experiences to follow.