“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” This first sentence of Joan Didion’s essay, “The White Album,” ignites her investigation of the social unraveling of American society in the 1960’s, an unraveling that parallels her own psyche. There is something about a good beginning, the immediate impact of it, similar to the moment your eye first glimpses a vast abstract painting, that is formative of the entire experience of “reading” that follows. It is perhaps the most visible part of a piece of writing, the beginning. Much writing has to do with persuasion, a fundamental part of language if you consider what the first conversation must have been like (this is a chair, no this is a surface, no this is a piece of writing). I write because I am interested in what others say, to discover how a thing can be said. Could one make an essay entirely of first sentences, perhaps from other wonderful essays in this series? Poetry is about discovering what is possible. It enhances the quality of visibility afforded by other media, develops the sense of self, identity, and authenticity, and in doing so, of togetherness, belonging, and purpose. It is always a social act. You can do what you want in poetry but everything matters. A notion that rings true of life. Communication is always a risk. Misunderstanding is inevitable. Poetry allows for misunderstanding and misreading, even encourages it, much like our dreams. The poet dreams awake, editing the creative rush to host an event in language for the listener. Newness is in the act of saying. Poems want to be uttered. “Art is a conversation,” says conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner, who often deploys texts poetically, “if not, what the hell is it for?” On the one hand, writing can be ambiguous, playful, arcane, passive, descriptive. On the other hand, it can be clear, concise, colloquial, active, prescriptive. Or any combination of adjectives. (The qualities listed here are not necessarily opposing qualities; we humans have two hands, but the hands to which I refer in the rhetorical phrasing of the previous sentences might belong to an eight-armed martian or an octopus with hands.) Now, let me conclude with several striking first sentences: “Leche,” I hear against an auditory backdrop of my mom’s preparations for Mexican-style rice: crackling onions, tomatoes, and garlic. When something has been a part of me for so long, it is hard to imagine myself without it. I can’t stop writing about the end of the world. On an island of white privilege at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, I raised a boy of color. If you were to look up the definition of “rough childhood” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of me. Sometimes you hear a voice through the door calling you, as a fish out of water hears the waves, or a hunting falcon hears the drum’s come back. Running and writing have always felt the same to me. I write comedy.
When the task of writing grows inevitably arduous—and seemingly thankless—we must remember why we started. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” this introspective project highlights our motives for writing. Share your story and join the conversation. Live events are produced throughout the diverse cities of Orange County and feature author readings from curated essay submissions.
- Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
- Submit via Submittable.
The 1888 Podcast Network is a curated collection of educational and entertaining podcasts. Each program is designed to provide a unique platform for industry innovators to share stories about art, literature, music, history, science, or technology.