“I’m just a story teller. I have to . . . I have to. I’m very unhappy when I’m not writing. I need to write. I think it’s possibly some kind of psychological balancing mechanism–but that’s not only true for writers . . . anybody. I think that we’re always . . . just a step away from lunacy anyway, and we need something to keep us balanced.” – Doris Lessing, 2001
I am interested in what drives people to write, to paint, sing, express themselves, and especially, particularly for the purposes of this posting, what drives people to communicate with words. And apart from the source of the urge, once it’s rationalised, is it for the communicator, or because they feel that the listeners really might benefit?
I’m tempted to begin with the general – about humans. So let’s.
Essentially, we are all social beings: that is a key part of humankind’s nature. As a species, we can point to story-telling, fairy and folk tales, traditional songs and if you’re of a Jungian bent (and I am), to the common unconscious, evidencing similar symbols and narratives across unconnected cultures: very exciting and something for another time. Developmentally, the urge to communicate is what drives a child to learn to speak. And interestingly (although obvious when you come to think of it), if you are denied the ability to communicate, your mental health will take a fair knocking (solitary confinement is a prison punishment for ‘good’ reasons).
We also, of course have a separate urge to record (IE not necessarily the same as the need to verbalise, but instead a drive based on a desire to record for posterity, perhaps in unusual circumstances – the forward-looking historical urge, if you like.) Just think of the Mass Observation project in the UK in the ’30s-’50s, where trained volunteers kept journals of everyday life, which are now very useful historical sources.
But here, I am more interested in the poet, lyricist, author, the journal or diary-writer and anyone else with one or other form of logghorea (yes, it’s just like diarrhoea, but this is verbal incontinence, not poo).
They are either loggers and crafts-people working with thoughts, inner development and growth, as well as of the quotidien, routine.
In the case of journals, perhaps it’s partly about a fear of forgetting; of ever-living in the present and perhaps making the same mistakes over and over; a fear of not learning from one’s own history. There’s also a desire to have something akin to a photo album: “remember the day when…..?”
With art (poetry, songs, novels, plays etc: blogging is perhaps the overlap between the two), there is more of a stretching-out to others, sharing experiences, capturing their essence with the writer’s own special butterfly net of language, to secure that reaction of, “aha, yes! THAT is what I feel,” in an audience.
I don’t have answers here, only questions. The comment from Doris Lessing, the 88-year old Nobel Laureate, which I quoted above sounds just perfect to me; the idea that writing provides balance in the brain (for her; and as she hints, it’s different strokes for different folks; others use different activities to achieve the same thing).
So, answerless, I want to leave you with another Lessing quote, from an interview she gave to PBS Now in 2003. All and any comments or thoughts would be extremely welcome.
I’m compulsive. And I deeply think that it has to be something very neurotic. And I’m not joking. . . . I don’t have to do anything. Nothing. I can just sit around. But, suddenly it starts, you see. This terrible feeling that I am just wasting my life, I’m useless, I’m no good. Now, it’s a fact that if I spend a day busy as a little kitten, racing around. I do this, I do that. But I haven’t written, so it’s a wasted day, and I’m no good. How do you account for that nonsense?