What I Do When I’m Not Writing

The other day, I sat with Datu as he sipped his Chai tea while I gulped down my too-sweet coffee, which had more foam than caffeine. We were in a booth in Coffee Bean, both of us on a couch in the corner farthest from the entrance. After a few pleasantries, he turned to me and asked, “And how is your writing? Hmm, Patricia?” I knew the question would crop up sooner or later but I was still unprepared. I grinned sheepishly and shrugged and stammered. “I…well…um, what writing?”

Datu fixed me with a piercing stare, waiting for a proper response. There was nothing that could fool the man; he was a writer after all and knew the many excuses one had for not picking up the pen. Besides, you couldn’t – you mustn’t – lie to a Datu. So, I did what needed to be done and told him the truth.

What do I do when I’m not writing? Many things. I surf the net. I read. I do work. I work out. I stare blankly at the posters I’ve hung on my attic room’s sloping ceiling. I take pictures. Then open them up on Photoshop or Lightroom, do some tinkering, post on Instagram. I paint. I cook a little and pretend to be a pro (I’m not). I doodle – a lot. I attend a local street dance class. I run a business and try to juggle it with freelance work and become very, very busy and so I lie down and look at my phone and scroll up and up and up and then late at night when I’m done scrolling and liking and being present but invisible, I wonder: where did all the time go?

I do all these except write, which I miss. Sure, I write in my planner and I write what I need to do. I write small things, small ideas. I catch little wisps on thought and jot them down. I write for a living, but as a researcher or a copywriter, I only write what people need to read. There isn’t much room for imagination or adventure, though my job occasionally leads me to amazing places and eye-opening experiences. But it’s not my work that’s to blame.

I don’t write because I’m afraid.

I have been for a while. I am afraid of writing something that means nothing, of saying what’s been said and being grammatically incorrect. I am afraid of chasing ideas into a dead end and not knowing how to find another exit. I am afraid of my characters falling flat, saying weird dialogue, and devolving into tired tropes. I flip through some of my work and think, my God that’s awful. And then I just stop writing.

But see, here I am, writing about not writing. It’s funny but I feel like this is how I should start it – my new journey to self-fulfillment. Because the truth is, I’ve been miserable from the lack of words, the loss of written expression. There is this nagging feeling that something is missing and I keep filling the void with other hobbies but they’re just not enough. And yeah, this might not be the most poetic or literary piece, but I just felt it needed to be written down. For my sanity and self-preservation.

Earlier this year, I joined an undergraduate writing class at the invitation of John’s uncle, who taught creative non-fiction. At his request, we called him not sir nor prof, but Datu. I sat among 17 to 18-year-old sophomores and seniors once a week for five months, discussing required readings and written assignments. That CNF class was the highlight of my week and though I struggled with the genre, I wrote and contributed what insights I had on the pieces. I even bought a highlighter.

At the end of the semester – at an intimate coffee-and-doughnut celebration – one of my classmates asked me how I was doing with finals. I smiled (flattered at the thought that I could still pass for a college student) and answered I was way past that as I had graduated six years ago. He was surprised and a little confused. “So, you’re…just here…to learn?” he said, stringing the words together slowly as he processed the absurdity of the idea – that a graduate, finished with school, would come back willingly for more readings, homework, and responsibilities.

To learn, sure. But I also just wanted to write and be read. It occurs to me now that I can do that at any time (here I am doing it now), but being in a class with other readers and writers was a real joy. I hope I can do that again real soon.

So. What has this little thought piece achieved? Nothing much. To anyone who has come across this and gotten this far into the post hoping for some epiphany or nugget of wisdom, I apologize. I was hoping for the same thing, too.

There is only this: a start. And I guess in times of crisis and desperation, that’s more than one can hope for.

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