Writing is a muscle. Once you stop exercising it, it’s harder to get back in the swing of things.
But it’s not a leaky pipe, where there’s something physical like rust inhibiting you from doing your job. As soon as you take that first step, back out onto the paper, you should be able to recount the motions from memory.
So why is it so hard to stop sitting behind this hotel ATM, jotting down desperate last minute questions, while staring waiters around me wonder why I’m not walking up to my source?
Even faking the art of journalism — something I never thought I’d feel guilty of doing — takes effort: I’m a ‘reporter’ completely unprepared. I tripped over my words on the phone with the media contact today. My shorts are three fingertips too unprofessional. The press release won’t download. I don’t even want to be here — I’m here because I messed up a date on an interning assignment, so now I’m reporting after the fact.
Even walking up to the nice lady, put together and confident in her pristine white skirt and pressed black blazer, takes effort. She smiles at me kindly, noting my knocking knees and uncomfortable smile.
I ask her questions in a cheerful tone, pen poised to pad, desperately hoping I will remember how to take notes at some point in our conversation.
“If a writer stops writing, how long until they stop being able to call themselves a writer?”
Now the question, once a curious sentiment thought in passing, always comes back to haunt me. It haunted me behind the ATM. It haunted me as I attempted to interview.
A month after I burned out writing my 90th byline for my college newspaper, a month and a week after I got sick of balancing reporting with having a life, I’m indeed out of practice. So could I be doomed to a life of long-winded sentences and poorly phrased deliberation, then, if I ever stopped?
An irrational thought to follow, but not one I could even afford to believe for a minute, as I sat down earlier that day and read The Harvard Crimson and Yale Daily News and balked at all the talented Marina Keegan-esque extraordinaires. My Ivy League friends are being voted 15 hottest freshmen or traveling to China or writing music reviews on the Upper East Side; they’re also among what seems to be an entire population of people at the top of their English classes.
My hands cramp with rage when I can’t muster up the right words now. I thought my break from journalism would set me free.
All it’s actually done is instill fear. When you take the computer away from the journalist — after all, I even went through a five day cleanse just to see if I could do it — maybe they really are nothing.
What the hell could I even talk about, if not journalism? That’s what my closest friends can relate to me on. That’s what keeps me busy, from stress-buying everything in sight, from overanalyzing any awkward social situations or romantic interactions, from eating anything I can get my hands on… journalism gives me a purpose.
When I find myself saying or doing the wrong things, the solution was always listening to other people and letting their stories give me strength.
Story-telling is the best kind. But I guess the brief time for me to tell mine is no longer enough.
Only fifteen uncomfortable minutes later did I bow my head awkwardly to all the kind executives, and hobble out of the Holiday Inn.
It was an Alzheimer’s Association event. I was only reminded of this, however, after I saw a woman helping her father toward the entrance. He was also hobbling, but not ironically or from some sort of misguided shame. He was hobbling because he was struggling. Was it dementia? Perhaps. But I didn’t know.
This event would raise awareness and money about people like him, and for people like me.
So now, I decided, maybe it was time to let another sentiment wander through my mind.
“The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said.” — Maybe if the way I say things isn’t original, at least I will have created some value for someone else’s experience.
Will I be great in the future? Will hard work and a possibly decent amount of talent pay off? I want to know NOW.
For now, I’m in this city, honing my self-worth and skill and whatever the hell I want to call this restless ability to prove myself. Because what if I miss my chance, and timing and terrible circumstance mean I never ‘make it’?
But talent isn’t fixed, Megan McArdle of The Atlantic explained in February.
It’s foolish to assume that stagnation is somehow inevitable.
It’s even more foolish to assume life experience and cultural literacy, among other factors, won’t influence my voice.
The last time I was this insecure about my ability was actually exactly a year ago, in room N131, while I fretted — once again — to my high school adviser about Ivies and interns and being recognized and hopefully not peaking, ever, in the next 5 years —
He cut me off with one look.
He pointed a finger at me and said how dare I, how dare I lament the possible loss of or inability to retain a voice.
I’m young. So it’s forming, and it’s growing, he explained.
No matter how far along in its development my voice was, I didn’t have one yet. And expecting to have one was unhealthy. Cool if I had one. But no harm, no foul, all norm, if I didn’t.
That was the most encouraging thing I’d heard in my life.