heart, heart, heartbreaker.

(re-posting this from when I last did, back in 2011, because it’s a gem)

If you have a few minutes to spare, this piece by my favorite author is worth your while.

Trading Stories: Notes from a Literary Apprenticeship by Jhumpa Lahiri

A part I particularly loved:

As I grew into adolescence and beyond, however, my writing shrank in what seemed to be an inverse proportion to my years. Though the compulsion to invent stories remained, self-doubt began to undermine it, so that I spent the second half of my childhood being gradually stripped of the one comfort I’d known, that formerly instinctive activity turning thorny to the touch. I convinced myself that creative writers were other people, not me, so that what I loved at seven became, by seventeen, the form of self-expression that most intimidated me. I preferred practicing music and performing in plays, learning the notes of a composition or memorizing the lines of a script. I continued working with words, but channelled my energy into essays and articles, wanting to be a journalist. In college, where I studied literature, I decided that I would become an English professor. At twenty-one, the writer in me was like a fly in the room—alive but insignificant, aimless, something that unsettled me whenever I grew aware of it, and which, for the most part, left me alone. I was not at a stage where I needed to worry about rejection from others. My insecurity was systemic, and preëmptive, insuring that, before anyone else had the opportunity, I had already rejected myself.

For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?

It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.”

Strange reasons I can’t yet comprehend, my writer-heart and self aches and cries a little, reading this piece. it leaves me undone; so affecting, so relatable. 

2 thoughts on “heart, heart, heartbreaker.

  1. This is beautiful ^ and sad. Especially this line: “How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?”

    Every now and then I sort through old notebooks, journals, school papers from 8th grade that for some reason I’ve refused to throw away until now. And I look over them all fondly until I come across the random handful of notebooks where I once upon a time attempted fiction. It’s painful for me to look at now.. mostly my bad prose, the sudden irrational character shifts, the highly fanciful stories masquerading as a mixture between my overly creative mind and a longing to remake some of the more painful childhood memories into something more wholesome (and hence less realistic). I haven’t written fiction in years. I prefer now to go back and read my essays in history or literature – there is less of me in there to revisit.

    1. I echo all your thoughts, especially how there’s a mixture of longing and sadness. I kept most of my writings from when I was little, and interestingly never wrote fiction haha. Even when I supposedly wrote fiction it was more like pseudo-fiction where I inserted bits and parts of my real life (which I now know is called creative nonfiction). There’s definitely less to revisit from those history and lit essays of yours, but I’m sure they’re just as valuable :)

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