Kim Wong Keltner, whose new book, Tiger Babies Strike Back is on sale now, will be reading at Green Apple on Thursday, May 2 at 7pm. Kim’s an old friend and neighbor of the store and knows we’re so excited to have her back, even just for a night, that she’s generously given us this original essay to tide us over till she visits.
Encouragement for Would-Be Writers
Future Writer, we’ll begin here. With infatuation. I want to know everything about you. Our words will not be spoken. Our lips will not move. My eyes may be steady, but my hands are shaking. Let’s begin, Writer. Let’s draw water from the well.
We’ve all had crushes before, but when you have the desire to write, there’s no way to explain away your feelings. I know that pain of unrequited love with your writing.
I’m up at night, you’re up at night. Let’s get to know each other.
How did I start writing books? I was tired of thinking about writing all the time, and walking away from this crush that would never go away. I knew I’d have to live my whole life with this feeling of “what if?” circling me like it was a predator and I was a soft, fluffy bunny. I was frustrated and bored with myself for saying I was going to start something and then not doing it. I think you’ve got to look your desire to write in the eye and say, “All right. You’re mine. You and I are Going All The Way.”
As for you, Would-Be-Writer, or just Writer, I’m a little worried about you. I’m consumed with thinking about you and what your hands are doing right now. Maybe your palms are face down and empty, or balled up into little fists as you sleep. Maybe your right hand is lifting slowly towards your mouth, holding a piece of chocolate. That’s you, wondering where to begin. I really do think of you a ridiculous amount of time. I can’t get you out of my mind.
I see your longing, and recognize your symptoms, Friend. Maybe it’s burning ambition rising up in your throat. Ah, the acid reflux of I’ll-show-them. Or maybe it’s the radiating pain from where you’ve been kicked in the back when you were down. Sucker punched. Those bastards.
And me? My heart was perforated by a sewing needle. Over my left breast is a wound that never heals.
However it’s hurting most right now, I think the burning on the back of the neck is where the desire to write begins. You turn crimson when writing first flirts with you, and then your skin feels sunburned with prickly attraction. Writing and coffee so often go hand in hand, but you might wake up at dawn and find you can’t have your morning cup because your stomach’s in Don Knotts. My stomach hurts, too. I told you I recognize your symptoms. I suffer from the same thing.
I write because I have no one to talk to. Writing to you keeps me self-contained, and prevents me from spinning off into the sky. Writing keeps me from doing scary things like saying dirty, sexy words to people I’ve barely met. But writing also helps me to do scary things, putting a pen to paper being the most frightening of all. Writing helps me figure out what I need, and separate that from what I want. For instance, there used to be this guy who worked at a neighborhood bookstore in San Francisco. Whenever I saw him I kind of wanted to take off my clothes and rub myself all over him. But instead I just gathered my books and looked away. See, I need books. And Iwant pregnancy like another hole in my head.
Writing’s always there for me. It doesn’t hide or lie to me, although I might hide or lie to it; that is, sometimes the writing isn’t one hundred percent honest. It’s not exactly dishonest, but not plain as day, either, which is the reason writing exists in the first place, to show honest emotion. And your inside writer waits for you, waits for you to come back and tell the humiliating or exhilarating things that happened to you in life. The writing lets you love yourself even if you don’t know yourself. There are always undiscovered parts.
Sometimes to write you have to tell yourself you are not holding a pen. You are not typing. No, not at all. There’s a song by Big Black called “Bad Houses.” The lyrics are, “I tell myself I will not go. Even as I drive there.” I think about this line all the time. I feel this way when I’m writing about something too embarrassing to think about. I tell myself I am not clutching a rollerball pen in the dark, or tapping on a keypad, even while I am. Sometimes I stop and hesitate. I stop driving the car and park right outside the house of my heart. I tell myself I will not go, but before I know it, I ring the doorbell. I ring and ring but nobody answers. Then I remember the door is never locked, and I go in.
You say the writing will never happen because there are too many people around, watching and listening. But if you want to write, and you are not doing it, even a little bit, nothing good is going to start to happen. I’m tellin’ ya. I’m worried about you, Writer Inside. I lose sleep over you.
When I see you walking around, or sitting in your car at a stoplight, I try not to look directly at you. But I’m sure my eyes show everything. And you. Your eyes give you away, too. I know I shouldn’t say that, but look at us. Probably no one else can tell. But you know it. And I know it. We’re a mess. Up at night, staring into darkness. Wanting writing and a creative life. Wanting more.
I think about that famous line by the Kinks, “I’m not content to be with you in the daytime.”
That’s right. I see you at your day job, or once in a while at a party, but only sometimes because I so seldom go out. I see you walking down the street when you don’t see me. But where is that you that I want?
You put yourself in an impossible situation if you want to write and don’t do it. It’s like loving someone but vowing that you will never touch, never even hold hands.
So pick up your pen or pencil. By writing down just one sentence, you will pierce your heart, but it won’t hurt. You won’t feel a thing. Actually, you’ll begin to feel everything. Again. Or for the first time.
Did you know you can perform an emergency tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen? That’s what you’re going to do when you start to write. You’ll breathe easier, I promise. In fact, this is the only way to find your voice, the tone of your writing. You’ll perform the operation on yourself, by writing.
So unbutton your shirt. If you’re shy, maybe undo just the top button. I love to see that soft skin of your throat. Start writing in the dark, just for yourself. And I swear, you will start to feel better.