Why I Write

New York writer and slam poet, Maggie Estep died yesterday. I have barely read or listened to her work, but her death makes me sad. Maybe it’s because she represented everything I think of myself as not: outspoken, impulsive, creative. Or maybe it is because we were nearly the same age, just turning into our fifties. Like thousands of others, I am sure, I’ve been reading over her past blog entries and I was totally taken back when I read this: “I don’t’ actually LIKE writing.  It’s HORRIBLE.”

What? I’ve never heard a writer confess that they hate writing. I’m totally intrigued.  “Say more. What is it that you hate, and is it similar to what I hate?” Like the hours and hours that go into thinking about writing, with nothing to show for it? Or, the berating voices that come into my head just at the moment I type the first letter? The ones that say, “You’re stupid”. “You have nothing original to say”. “Why not just go and give the dog a bath instead of wasting your time sitting in front of a blank computer screen?”  Why not admit that much of the time writing is just fucking torture? Why not confess the truth that I’d much rather be out with my chainsaw, clearing the forest?


Ranch Creek after the Rain (photo by Wayne Olts)

I have to add a disclaimer here. I am not well versed in the craft of writing. I know very little about proper grammar. I can’t spell for shit. I don’t know anything about form or style. I never took a writing class or participated in a workshop. In high school, none of my teachers, that I can recall, exposed me to the poets: To Shakespeare, Keats, or Dickenson, or walked me through the door of language and into the magical world where anything is possible.

Avalon School was a school of survival. I learned how to stay out of trouble, which may, or may not, have worked to my benefit. I was a straight “A” student in High School, but when I went to college I received a “D” on my first paper, written for an English for dummies class that I had to take due to low SAT scores. And I think the professor was being nice. I should have received an “F”. Nevertheless, I was devastated and immediately thrust into suicidal depression that lasted for most of my freshman year.

So why write?

Many writers give their reasons for writing. Like Maggie Estep, they say they write because the alternative is death. That they have to write in order to make sense of an otherwise very confusing and often disturbing world. I am not so sure this is true for me. I wouldn’t die if I didn’t write, but I would be difficult to live with.  Or should I say, more difficult to live with than I am now?

In truth, I write because I am in love with the world. I write because there is so much beauty around me – beauty that I take in with my senses – that if I don’t give some of it back, I will fill up and explode (I guess this is kind of like death). Smell is particularly crazy making. Wet grass, sage, pine, and the musty scent of water in the desert make me want to jump out of my skin.   Sometimes I eat dirt because it smells so good. In all seriousness, I ask, “How does one go about expressing such things?”  Is it “balmy”, “aromatic”, “fragrant”, “ambrosial”? Is it like the irresistible, unexplainable, pull of pheromones of my husband’s salty skin after a day of hard physical work?

When I was about fifteen, my father took me to the Grand Canyon. It was summer and a big seasonal monsoon had just passed through. The sky was electric and the clouds moved quickly over the canyon, casting silver shreds of light along the edges of the sandstone stratum. I could barely contain myself. I wanted to jump into the canyon. It took willpower to pull myself away from the edge, away from danger, away from death.

This is why I write. So, after all, I guess it is about life.

So pardon me, dear reader, if I don’t do it well. Please forgive me for not adhering to the rules of the trade. For indulging myself. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope that we can continue to share pieces of our stories. That together we can taste the magic. That we can be with those, like Maggie Estep, who have stood on the edge, and that we can keep each other from jumping over. That we can live as long as we possibly can.

Loss and Beauty


From the edge of the Grand Canyon I can look into the carved out history of geological time – layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale. I scan the cream colored Kaibab where I stand, down the precipitous Redwall, past Supai tans and purplish Temple Buttes. If I scoot a little closer to the edge, I can catch a view of the bottom, 6000 feet below, and where the Colorado River appears like a silver thread upon the dark blue bottom. The Vishnu Schist, the most ancient layer of the canyon, began to take form over two billion years ago in the thick and muddy waters of a shallow sea.


My lover and I had just driven fifteen miles of forest service road to arrive at this point. We wanted to escape the crowds of tourists that descended upon the national park and we were filled with a sense of quietude, sprinkled with sparks of anticipation, when we finally eased off the smooth and predictable pavement and into unfamiliar territory.  We drove through a succulent forest of Aspen and pine, blinded on both sides, and for what felt like a disproportionate amount of time compared to our map calculations.  But, eventually, and without warning, the veil parted and the canyon appeared – the end of the world, so it seemed – filled with the soft and iridescent light of late afternoon sun. We got out of the truck, opened a couple of Dos Equis, and toasted to our good fortune.


















But now, my heart grows heavy with the seriousness of time. The sun is setting and the canyon is growing dark; the shadow slowly easing its way up the steep alluvial walls toward me.  Although I can barely make out the river, its evidence is all-encompassing. Millions of years of watery movement, combined with uplift, wind, and rain, has sculpted one of the most forbidding and awe-inspiring places on earth.  Here on the edge of the unknown, I cannot help but feel the weight of this. I kick a small stone over the side just to say that I have participated in this act of attrition.  To mark my existence on eternity. 

I think of my father whose body is also being eroded away by time, expedited by the cancer that grows in his belly. I imagine the shape-shifting of his muscles as body-mass falls from shoulders and arms to gather at the bottom in his feet. I think of the wrinkles on my face, which grow deeper with each hot summer. I think of my love, this dear man who sits next to me now, and how, someday, my loss of him will cut deep groves of grief into my very being. 

And I think of a river that once flowed rebelliously and madly, that sang along with the cycles of seasons, but is now caged by a monolithic obstruction a few miles from where I stand.


As I look into the canyon I see nothing but loss and beauty. The two so intricately connected that it seems one cannot exist without the other. Without loss the intensity of beauty begins to wane; it surrenders its vibrancy and urgency. Without loss our lives become crusty and dull, clogged by the debris of too many brazen ideas and narrow beliefs. Without the impending edge of loss, the rush of love would fade into a trickle, no longer able to move the stones that block our hearts. We all need a wild river to push the rubbish away, leaving nothing in its path except our souls exposed like ancient deities sweeping up the desert.