On Not Writing

What if I never write again.

I wonder this over and over. Driving to work, doing the dishes, writing feedback on my Creative Writing students’ pieces. It isn’t so much a question, I am not searching for alternative routes and possibilities. Instead, I pose it as a statement to myself and question how much of my own identity has been tied to writing.

What I don’t know how to say when I’m communicating this aloud to my partner, Mark, usually late at night when the humming energy is beginning to fry me at the edges, is if I need it—if I can live without it.

What would it look like, not writing?

Would I take up another skill? What would I distract myself with while missing its presence?

In truth, I know exactly what it would look like. Since my sister’s death in December of 2015 I have fed the grief monster with the seeds of many projects, turning my face away from ideas and inspiration whenever they might strike. I have looked at my empty notebooks with disdain. Blank screens felt burdensome—what the fuck did writing want from me? It was a mewing, persistent creature, weaving itself between my legs, trying to pull me toward a part of myself that I wanted dry and dormant.

It has been a mighty drought.

I have ripped down wallpaper at 11:30pm on a Saturday night, only to turn to another room to start painting. I have taught myself how to use a circular saw, a drill, how to weed whack and start the motor on a gas leaf blower. I have spent hours looking up information on creating a garden in the backyard, though my thumb is rotten and black.

I’m sure Mark wonders if I would be happier surrendering to not writing. I’m sure he wonders if the day-to-day of our lives would be smoother, less prone to landmines and sudden stops or stalls. His mind so often a clean line to what is easiest, yet I know that writing has never had anything to do with happiness.

If I am being my most honest self, I believe that writing takes those I love further away from me, often in the pursuit of the opposite—a search for them, toward them. Writing is my process to gnaw at the bone, to quiet the humming, to feel a little more okay in the shit-storm of my forty-minute commute to work while listening to news radio. I have nothing to say, I think as another mass shooting is broadcast. I have nothing to say, I think as hurricanes and floods ravage the country. I have nothing to say, I think, hands at the wheel, as white supremacists remind us of our worst potential.

In Creative Writing class, a student asks me what it means to be safe, if we are safe, if she’s safe.

None of us are, I think. And how to say that this feeling—this lack of safety—is related to my quiet, how it’s been over two years since I truly put pen to paper.

What if I never write again—floods me with ideas of freedom, some bland life teaming with evenly stacked piles of fruit at grocery stores.

What if I never write again—feels, equally, like treason.



Marissa Schwalm is an Associate Editor for The Flexible Persona.

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