When I was six I wrote my first essay. I say six but that’s just a guess. I don’t actually remember my age when this story I’m about to tell you took place, but I remember everything else about that day very vividly, as we’re wont to do with life’s most harrowing and subsequently life-defining episodes.
I remember feeling very frustrated—although I’m sure “frustrated” wasn’t yet a part of my vocabulary then—as I wrote because I was sure I was spelling many of the words wrong. Even to my just-barely-literate eyes, I knew that words are not necessarily spelled the way they sound. Life is complicated like that. Note that this was all before I learned about silent letters, long vowel sounds, and the unique and utterly baffling phonetic formed by the combined letters of “N” and “G”.
Naturally, my first foray into essays, written on two pages of bond paper (no lines!), had questionable grammar, many misspellings, and possibly even made up words—it was a miracle my mom was able to decipher it! Not that I had intended to show it to her; I hid it under my pillow. But mothers have their secret ways….
There’s nothing like cruelty and injustice to inspire people to take to the pen or, in my case, the no.2 pencil. Although, at that age my concept of cruelty and injustice was limited to things like not being allowed to go swimming every day and stay in the water till I prune. Stuff like that.
My essay was a mournful lament on my lot in life and a couched condemnation of my oppressor, i.e. my mom. . I didn’t write things like “I heyt my layf” or anything of that sort. Teenagers do that! No, my sixish-year-old self was far more sophisticated. My title was, “If I Cod Only Brim Back the Pas” (If I Could Only Bring Back the Past). That was a very poor choice for a title. I didn’t actually want to go back in time and change or relive anything, which is what a title like that implies. What I wanted instead, as I explained in my essay, was to be omnipowerful so I can chose to be born as a beloved and adored only child of doting parents who will let me do anything I want and give me everything I ask for—a concept far too complicated for my underdeveloped intellect to articulate and capture succinctly in a title.
When I saw mom reading it mere minutes after I “hiding” it so carefully, I was sure I would be in big trouble. I steeled myself for her impending anger as she called me to her. But to my utter shock, she seemed…pleased. I was immediately suspicious.
In what I thought was a very spiteful move, she made me stand still in front of her as she read a few lines back to me. It made me cringe/want to die/ want to be to be swallowed up by a sinkhole.
My mother wasn’t done yet. She showed it to the maids. Then off she went to my lolo’s house with me in tow. There, she read it to my aunt and anyone who would listen. I still couldn’t understand why no one was getting mad at me yet. Was this my punishment for writing that hateful piece, public humiliation?
Finally, it sunk in. My mom was sincerely happy and very proud of what I wrote. Woah! It made me so very sorry I even wrote it in the first place. I’m a spoiled, ungrateful brat. I don’t really want to “brim back the pas.”
I learned three things that day: our mother really is our number one fan; at least one person in this whole world will always think my writing is good enough to read; and the feeling of happiness and satisfaction you get for writing something will be snuffed out and replaced by anxiety and crippling self-doubt once someone starts reading it.
To this day, when my words are read back to me or when I know someone is at that moment reading something I wrote, I’m overcome with the same feelings I had as a sixish-year-old: I cringe / want to die / want to be swallowed up by a sinkhole. The intensity of those feelings is directly proportional to the effort that went into the writing. Ironically, writing is my day job. I must be a masochist. It’s the only explanation that makes sense on why, despite my early taste of just how excruciating it is to open yourself up for judgment like that, I keep on doing it.
Blogging is only slightly less horrible than writing for a publication or for a client. Slightly. Because in Tumblr, I don’t know if anyone even sees my posts. As so, I’m not pressured to do multiple drafts or to proofread. The downside is, I also don’t have the benefit of gifted editors and copyeditors to look over my work and make sure I don’t humiliate myself.
Sometimes I envy people who write without regard to proper grammar, syntax and content, and with even less regard to other people’s opinion. What a wonderful and totally liberating mindset, and it’s certainly healthier for the self-esteem!
But you know who I envy more? The really good writers. I weep at the sight of a beautifully constructed sentence that parses perfectly instead of rambles, that’s full of wit instead of forced word play, that’s without a grammatical flaw, and that can express ideas, emotions or imagery with a skill that I can never hope to match.
But even so, I beat on, a boat against the current, borne ceaselessly back—aaand I just stole a line from The Great Gatsby. You see what I mean? So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really know why I write. I just do.
But here’s why George Orwells writes (err, wrote??). Give it a read.