Alright, look. I'm calling bullshit on this writer's block. I'm over it.
Joseph and I have a similar relationship with our writing. He knew early on that he wanted to be a songwriter, and he spent years developing the craft. He does have some natural talent, I have to believe, or he never would have been able to get to the point where he could be called a prolific songwriter. I mean, to be fair, I suppose there are probably plenty of prolific "songwriters" out there without an ounce of talent or a decent song to show for all their work, but for the sake of being candid and thoughtful about what really is, we can go ahead and say that Joseph is good at what he does. He worked at it, for years, to learn how to do it. His songs are poetic without being obnoxious or pretentious (what a fine line that is.) Here are a couple examples:
In This Life
Down the road down my long lifeline
No matter where I go all the loves of my lifetime
They have come along for the ride
And there they'll stay like ghosts at my side
At my side in this life
Through the fields down in the orchards
Memory sings the saddest songs that I've heard
Lonely melodies all sung sad and high
And there they'll stay like ghosts at my side
At my side in this life
Now blank walls and empty halls
Fading into memory
They catch one bittersweet frame
A picture remains of what used to be
These words scattered and lost
The pages torn off the letters on fire
It hurts blood soaked through the cloth
To pay off the cost of reckless desire
The hard truth the bitter proof
Its mysteries stripped bare
Is found a volume unbound
A song without sound
And nobody cares
Me, I knew from age 8 that writing was in my fingers, sonic bursts coming from my imagination. I wrote for hours a week, even as a child. I never shared that writing with anyone. As I got older and realized how terrible it was, I threw it all out. I didn't save a word.
In college, when some former classmates died, even though I wasn't particularly close to them, their deaths introduced a change in my life where fear and mortality became new motivational tools at my disposal.
In a roundabout way, through their deaths, I met someone online who quickly became a confidant. We could have met in person. We had mutual friends. We attended the same college, our schools in two buildings that sat side by side, joined by an annex that housed a little cafe we both frequented. I suppose you could say we chose not to meet? Or perhaps it never came up because it didn't seem a necessary event to further our friendship. I'm not sure I recall.
For a little over a year, I considered him as probably my closest friend, not in the best buds way, but due to the intimacy of our communication and the growth that came of it. We shared our minds with each other, through our words, through these letters and keys. I looked forward to every email I received from him, and he said the same of me. Robert taught me how to write. I was 24 at the time, he 23, and mentally, emotionally, I was still a 16 year old girl trying desperately to mature. Robert showed me the way, not by design or desire, but by being an example to me, by showing me the care he put into his crafts—writing, photography and art. I studied every sentence, every piece of art, every image and learned that for all the words and hours I'd written in my life, I hadn't yet learned to write. I hadn't found my voice.
Robert went on to marry the girl who got away and make a little bit of a sensation for himself online, where his art and photography have gained an impressive following. I haven't spoken to him in years and sometimes feel like he must have forgotten all about me amid the distractions of his life and fame. He did reach out on two occasions though. Once he left me a comment about my writer's block, which I discovered, months later, he had gone back and deleted (but why, Robert?) And once on the day my mother died when he shared a picture of flowers, something he only would have known to do if he had been following my activity and despair all along. It was a meaningful reminder of a secret friendship long past on the most difficult day I've lived.
I don't blame him for moving on with his life. It wouldn't be natural to feel close to him the way we once were. He's married. His attentions are taken elsewhere. And that's just him. Me? I have Joseph now. I have a career that is going better than I could have predicted, keeping me occupied and exhausted in the ways you want your career to do. That brief and interesting relationship served its purpose in my life, and I have to hope in his as well—he did say it was because of me, because of the confidence I gave him, that he went after the girl who got away, the one he would eventually marry. And because of the confidence he gave me, I left my comfortable, stale, dead end life and moved to Australia, a dream that I didn't think I could pull off, but one that had to happen—once the momentum that I didn't know began the night I met Robert started to churn forward and pull me with it. Robert is a ghost at my side and always will be because of the impact he made on my life during the year I was 24.
Australia was my chance to find myself, to remove myself from the life I knew and give myself an opportunity to become who I wanted to be, not who others tried to make me be. I wasn't spending my Australian life on the beach and having fun. There were plenty of beach trips and fun days, but Australia was gruelingly difficult for me, emotionally, psychologically and academically. It was in Australia that I realized I liked writing better than design. I was getting a masters degree in architecture, my second architecture degree, though the program was more about design computing and new media.
It was an absurd realization to come to, having written countless words in my life to that point. How did the idea of being a writer escape my attention? What made me want to be an architect and a designer? I'm really not sure, but it was there, in Sydney, that I furthered my craft, learning to write more technical content, focusing more on the papers I wrote than on the design projects I was assigned about which I was writing. I spent those two years honing this penchant for words, introducing thought and discipline to the way I wrote what I chose to write. Every word became calculated, where before every word was an eruption of immature, unfocused indulgence.
In Seattle, I was still stuck designing, but spending hours a day writing. I couldn't do my job until I had written for at least three or four hours first. If I had to review my own words from that time, they were emotional but humorous in their sorrow. I was lost, where I wanted to be but not finding what I was there to find. Every event and encounter seemed to push me backwards, emotionally. It was easy to write about the turmoil I was experiencing. It's always easy to write about what hurts. It was cathartic. I had near perfect recall on conversations I'd had with people. I was bold for the first time in my life. Any former diffidence brashly set aside as I struggled and fought to make Seattle work, as I wrote to record that period of my life and all the characters that came into it, for awhile or for a moment. It was there that I met Joseph right as I was coming to the decision that it was time to leave that city that I both loved and hated for all it did to me.
Joseph and I only knew each other through our words and pictures. We spent a little over a year writing to each other, not knowing that we would eventually meet in person, though the instant I first found him, I knew I needed to find a way. He wasn't going to be another ghost at my side. There was something about him that I knew, intrinsically, was meant to last.
I moved to Portland to be closer to my sister, to find better job opportunities, to save some money after living in Seattle for a few years, and even, somewhat, at the prodding of a burgeoning but doomed relationship that died the day I officially left Seattle and moved to Portland. Living with my sister for two years was exactly what needed to happen for me, and I believe, for her, as it was during the two years that our mother was sick and passed away. I found a job that finally pushed my career back on track and opened up opportunities for me that I needed to be able to move forward as a technical writer rather than a designer. I was able to save more money than I ever had before, money that would get me to Asheville and to Joseph two years later. And I learned through the loss of that relationship that I was on the wrong path for so long, going after the wrong men, not seeing what was right in front of me but that could have only been right in front of me from the path I took to get to him.
As I stopped dating and started to focus all of my concern and love towards Joseph, the man on the east coast I had never met in person, I stopped writing so much about my life and started directing my words to Joseph, just as I had with Robert years earlier. Joseph responded in kind, as attentive to our developing relationship as I was.
It was in Portland that I learned about a condition called hypergraphia. Words I wrote to Joseph shortly after learning about it:
have you ever heard of hypergraphia?
usually it accompanies epilepsy or bipolar disorder. i have neither.
it's the compulsion to write.
technically, it means there's something wrong in my brain
i'm wired wrong.
birth defect. or something.
i don't know that it's such a bad thing.
my left ear, i've always called it my birth defect ear.
when i was little i wanted a girl mullet like all the other girls and my mom refused.
(thank god, in hindsight, that my mom wouldn't let me get a girl mullet.)
but her reason had nothing to do with knowing that in a few short years mullets would be a stain on our picture albums.
she didn't want people to see my ear.
that's when i realized something was wrong.
it hadn't occurred to me before that.
it's not horrible. just a little extra cartilage on one side that isn't on the other. you only notice if i point it out.
my nose is a little crooked too. and my smile, my lips. sometimes i have that rocky thing going on, where one side is a little lazy.
apparently they're all related to brain development.
my curse. i'm happy to have it.
sylvia plath, melville, van gogh, dostoevsky... they all had it too.
i've self-diagnosed, of course. but it's pretty obvious.
my brain actually is wired differently.
My life became more about us, about Joseph and me, and less about myself. Refusing to let Joseph be a ghost at my side, I went to meet him and eventually left Portland for Asheville. It's been just over four years since I met him and they have been the worst and the best years. We dealt with our struggles together and overcame, together. But as I spent more time with Joseph and the depression from Seattle finally lifted, my words failed me. I could sit in front of a blank page for hours and think of nothing to say. Did I not have hypergraphia? How could I have spent so much of my life with such a strong compulsion to write that I could focus on nothing else until I'd said what I needed to say only to end up with writer's block right as my life was finally turning around into what I had always wanted it to be? The more my writing was about fear and depression and mortality, the better, louder and longer my writing became. But what of the happiness I finally had achieved? There was nothing I could think to say.
Joseph walked away from his music a year ago because he realized it was causing him to suffer. The more he suffered, the better he wrote—the more beautiful his songs. I supported his decision and we have both been fairly happy and content, him not writing, me not writing. But we both have that need to write and neither of us want to focus on what hurts anymore, so it seems we have nothing to say.
If I were to hurt Joseph, I'm certain we could expect another flurry of beautiful, painful, poetic, relatable songs. I'm certain my hypergraphia (if that is even what it is) would stomp back into the forefront of my life and insist that I focus solely on it and nothing else. But I could never do that to Joseph. I would rather never hear a song about myself than ever hurt this person who means everything to me. I would rather never feel the pain I've felt before than write another word. It's so easy to write our pain.
I do have a voice, and I have so much to say. I don't know if I do have writer's block. I think I just haven't learned to write about my happiness.