If it seems paradoxical at first to assert that I do not write in a piece of writing, we must recognize the paradox lies at the heart of life. Like the dialectic of enlightenment, which is to say an understanding of modern barbarism, we see that opposites not only attract, but are joined in their very conception. Twins know as much in their struggle for independence.
I used to write, and in that writing there was also non-writing — days when it was all blank pages, or archives that I burnt to ash in the fire, out of an instinct that the writing was not good enough to survive out there in “the world,” or even for myself in future years. It meant understanding readers had very little time left after they bathed the kids to sit down with what I had put on paper. I did, of course, find a way to write about why I wrote back then, arguing for the kind of world I was trying to call forth, to set down, to record. And yet, that now belongs to a different era, if not simpler then at least with less at stake for me personally.
No, I don’t write, and not for reasons one might suspect. It is not because it is hard — it always came easy to me, and still does. It is not because I do not have faith in writing — I think that writing can change worlds and the world. It is not because I could not get published, or for other reasons you might suspect.
It is because the best way to write is by resisting it.
I have heard other writers describe it as a compulsion, but that seems amateur when others are paid to do it, and it is indeed labor. I have heard people suggest it is for ego, that it makes them feel good to sit at festivals and educate the readers who flock to the spectacle. I have heard other writers say that they have a message — whether experiments in research and development, or some sort of self-help. To me, all of that is valid, but it does not describe why I do or do not write.
I do not write because I can live a good life without it. Perhaps even a better one. I can also know myself and change the world. If writing for me was an aid to reflection, transcendence, and community, it is possible to realize the miracle of every day in other ways. This is about the language beneath language even as we must come to terms with what is before us. If it is about seeing the surface of a lake, it is not enough to say there are meters below, we must also ask what is rain, why is the aquifer lonely, and what are we made of, in our blood thick with salt.
I do not write because of the failure of language either, not because I am unable to make sense of myself in the logic of English or Malayalam or Gikuyu. I do not write even as language can only ever approach but never arrive. I do not write because what has been written needs time to sediment, to move from the nest to the groundwater. It is about transcendence and seeing that the writing that contains this has to move beyond itself.
I do not write to become a better friend.
I say that not only to resist the market where writing takes place, but also to remind writers there is more to life than our identity, craft, and genius. It is about seeing what is possible when we let go, when we go our own way, into and out of expression and articulation, towards a sense of collaboration. And so, if I do not write, what do I do?
I translate from a universe, from a world historic spirit, to my family as it resembles the past lives we know live within us. And, if the world cannot read, why should I be writing? Better to be talking and cooking, listening and teaching; after all, the pen might be mightier than the sword, but what use are either of them when the soul simply wants freedom? Discipline is the path to walk upon to get there, and, writing is a bridge that cultivates this within us. The island we reach after it might allow us to liberate ourselves when there is no ink, when there is no water, when paper has become ash and we ourselves have returned to the ocean.
Banner image: Paul Klee, “Comedy,” 1921. Photo © Tate, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported).