Why I Write

As far as I’m concerned, Joan Didion’s had the last word on this – though to be fair to the myriad of writers who’ve attempted to summit this peak, her last word was in the form of one vowel repeated three times.

Q:  Why does Dame Didion write?

A:  I, I, I.

I admire this stance, in Didion and anyone else who’s able to pitch their flag proudly on Ego’s mountaintop and yawp to the world, “I write therefore I am!”  But I’ve never been much of an “I, I, I” type, thanks perhaps to bad genes, bad luck, bad balance or that I’m from Ohio, and, as result of one or all of these factors, have always been much more an “iy, iy, iy” type.  (Or is it “ai, ai, ai”? Whichever is less Chihuahuan, that’s me.)  Why do I write?  Iy, iy, iy.  Bad day?  I scribble about it then turn the page.  Turning the page is important otherwise I’d never get out of bed.  These notebooks once full get added to a box I’ve been toting around with me since I was in the fourth grade and caught in the perfect storm of pre-pubescent gawkiness that was the Ogilvie Home Perm and the Sally Jesse Raphael line of Eyewear.  Rock, meet Hard Place.  You remember Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, right?  These were character-building years for sure.

Iy, Iy, Iy.  Scribble, scribble, scribble.

A boyfriend once tried to convince me that my private journaling was really a desire for public readership.  This was after he broke into my apartment, repeatedly, and went through my things, including my box of journals, while I was on campus taking grad school classes on writers like Didion, Whitman, and Montaigne.  Didn’t Montaigne address this public/private issue in an essay or three?  If not, I’m certain Alanis Morissette has a song about diary-reading douchebags.  Sometimes it pays to have nosey neighbors, who outed the rat, and if you’re ever in the market, I highly recommend the Kwikset Security Deadbolt system.  And a restraining order.  Those are nice too.

Iy, iy, iy.  Scribble, turn page, lather, rinse, repeat.

When not bemoaning bad days in private ways, I do sometimes manage to eke (eek!) out fiction and, surprisingly, given my I-nathema, first-person narrative has long been a favorite of mine for its cloaking powers of invisibility. There’s nothing quite like slipping out of yourself and into a new character for a while. (Well, really, there are many far better things, but this is an essay on writing.) More character, less writer; more someone else, less me.  If I could come up with a pseudonym that would fully capture my “unique” joie de vivre, I’d use that instead of “Innis,” which is, frankly, a very I-centric name.  But Danielle Steel’s already been taken and no one looks to Stone Cold Steve Austin for reading material.  So, for as much as I’m stuck with myself in real life, I try as hard as I can to be someone else completely “on the page.”

Ah the “page.”  How many times have I read that it takes courage to face the “page”?  I don’t really get this.  War, clouds of flesh-eating locusts, Mitt Romney in office – these nightmares require Balls of Steel.  But following a blinking cursor across a screen or scrawling some ink on paper?  Not so much.   I mean, some days you get the lady and some days you get the tiger.  So it goes.  I have my fourth grade teacher to thank for introducing me to this riddle wrapped in a mystery inside the enigma that is the classic Frank R. Stockton tale, The Lady, or the Tiger?  It’s not easy navigating elementary school as a budding existentialist, especially one with a bad perm, bad eyesight, and a bad overbite, but it does put you on the fast-track for becoming a total misanthrope later in life.  Yippee.  Which is why, for your sake, dear reader, I avoid “I, I, I” at all costs when I write.  Much better to shield you from me, and in doing so, hopefully we'll find a third door to a far better place.

Julie Innis is the author of Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture. Her stories have appeared in Post Road, Pindeldyboz, Fwriction : Review, and Gargoyle Magazine, among others. She lives in New York City.