After a couple years without one, I’ve just joined a new writing group. At the end of our first meeting, two of us chatted about our backgrounds as we headed toward the metro station.
Among other things, I told her I’d been born in a village of a couple hundred people… Had been plunged into a new culture and language as a teenager… That my parents had run a non-profit supply organization in Africa.
“How have all those things influenced your writing?” my new friend asked.
“My… My writing?”
“Umm…” I hesitated, scrambling for an answer. I’ve been writing for a while. You’d think I’d have given that question some thought.
Apparently not. Wow.
I mumbled something inadequate and we parted ways. But as I threaded my way through the crowd toward my train, her question stuck with me.
“How have life-events influenced your writing? How have life-events influenced your writing? How have—”
Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
I took a ragged breath and swiped them away. More replaced them. The question had obviously touched something deep that I didn’t have words for.
Over the next few days, I cradled the question inside me, letting my inner voice whisper it over and over.
How have life events influenced you? How have life events—
“Well, for one thing, they’ve made me an easy dinner guest,” I replied. “I’ve eaten crocodile, crickets, and monkey. I’ve scooped couscous out of a common bowl with my hand—outside… during a sandstorm. At this point, I’ll eat pretty much anything.”
Um, I thought we were talking about your writing.
My inner voice wasn’t going to let me off.
I carried the question around for a couple more days.
Your writing… your writing… How have they influenced your writing?
I let the thoughts come. Mulled them over. Wondered what was true and what wasn’t.
“I think I have more of an answer now,” I said to my inner voice. “Not a definitive one, mind you. Just a start.”
Super. I’m listening.
“Well, I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I developed a vivid imagination. I bring that to my writing.”
Cool. What else?
“As a teen, I wanted to fit in. To belong. I worked hard at learning French to make that happen.”
Did it work?
“Sort of. But I bartered away some of who I was to feel like I had friends.”
“I’ve lived almost two-thirds of my life outside of my “home” country. Each place has had a different set of ‘rules.’ Stuff to conform to if you wanted to belong.”
Were you good at it?
“Sometimes. But it’s left me wondering who I am… Where I belong.”
And that has influenced your writing?
“Yeah. Because I’ve realized others feel that way, too. We’re all muddling through life. We all long to belong. How we treat each other matters. Our choices have weight. Our words have weight. We need each other.”
And you bring that to your writing.
“And to life… In theory, anyway. Living it out is hard. It’s relatively easy to love humanity, but loving individual people is hard. Sometimes I fail miserably. Ask my family.”
Don’t need to. I know… Just as I know you don’t always love yourself very well, either. It’s a journey and that, too, is something you bring to your writing.
“I guess it is.”
To be continued…