Despite a particular hatred of literature class and some teachers’ assertions that I lacked talent for writing, a 16-year-old version of myself felt compelled to explore her feelings through the written word.
Why? Composing music, painting, and dancing required training and materials I didn’t have. At the very least, I was literate and had access to both pen and paper. And few other mediums could ensure a teenage girl, as long as she is careful, privacy.
At first, my writing was self centered. I chronicled typical teenage disappointments: being ignored by boys, feeling unsure about the shape of my body, and wondering more and more what I wanted from friendships with other girls. Later, I learned that I could use imagery to camouflage my confessionals from people who weren’t meant to read them. After a time, the effort became pleasurable and comforting; I could manipulate my surroundings by writing about them. When I realized that the structure of a sentence could wield power and even impose order on a world that made absolutely no sense to me, I sparked in myself an interest in literature unrelated to what I was learning in school. I embarked on an education of my own, both voraciously reading and writing everything my teachers would never assign.
I don’t often think about my roots as a writer, but an article called “The Reader and Technology“, recently published by Granta, made me wonder if my interest in writing had anything to do with boredom and if future generations, protected perhaps from boredom, will be able to experience the call to write.
Toby Litt admits, “If the computer games which exist now had existed back in 1979 I would not have read any books, I think; I would not have seen writing as an adequate entertainment…Similarly, I find it difficult to understand why any eleven-year-old of today would be sufficiently bored to turn inward for entertainment”.
A few years after my exploratory dips into writing, I came of age at the very same time that updating social networks and engaging constantly with a screen became part of a young person’s routine. I waddled through my formative years with one foot in the “boredom” that Feller describes and one foot in distraction.
My writing, which at first came naturally, sometimes began to feel like a chore. Many times, I regretted the hours I spent sitting in front of a computer chatting on Facebook or looking through photos posted by some boy I liked. Blogging became important to me because it allowed me to continue writing – perhaps not with depth but with consistency – in those brief moments between distractions, when I didn’t have time for sustained thought, the prerequisite for writing.
I easily could have abandoned writing, dismissing it as an exercise that requires too much effort and dedicated focus in a world that offers too much distraction. However, I think what made me immune, to a certain extent, from distraction is that writing was an essential part of the story I told myself to help me figure out who I was and am. Despite my uncertainty about everything else, I knew what I loved – writing – and I would need to remain true to that or risk losing myself.
I feel lucky to have had the chance to begin to explore writing before social networking because I was able to glimpse what writing could do for me. At least I could understand what it meant to write in a world that was just a little less saturated with information.
Even so, I have hope for future generations of writers and disagree with Litt’s idea that an eleven-year old today could never be bored enough. Though not bombarded with as much technology, that 16-year-old version of myself could have been and was distracted by thousands of other pursuits: shopping, chatting on the phone, listening to music, making ice cream sundaes with her best friend, worrying about what a boy thinks, and reading magazines.
Distractions have always and will always exist for those who do not want to confront themselves. Some people will find looking inward and exploring the self a worthy pursuit no matter what new video game has just been released. And I believe that the people who surrender themselves to the sometimes terrifyingly unfamiliar landscape of the mind never really have any other choice other than to pay attention to that gnawing “boredom” and follow it. If they can continue to do so in the midst of distraction, then perhaps their art will be all the more richer for it.
Whether or not those people will find an audience is a topic I don’t yet think I’m brave enough to explore.
(Photo by cambodia4kidsorg)