Why I Write – Two Truths and a Lie
May 25, 2023 § 13 Comments
By Alexander Forston
I have no traditionally valuable skills; by this I refer to those that are commonly called “marketable” or “in demand.” I do not understand money management nor the value of labor nor why all of society’s functions must occur in the daylight. I have been a night owl since I was born; you can ask my mother about it. I often find it unpleasant to talk to strangers, but I can do it when I must. I perform diligently and to the best of my ability when I have a job, but I cannot remain at a position for more than six months without falling into existential panic and quitting abruptly. I can’t do a pull-up. Of all the things that are possible, in fact, I doubt that I can do most of them.
But when all that lies before me is the empty page’s untouched white expanse (or dark gray, in the case of my word processor’s night setting), none of that matters. I am unbound by expectation, preconception, or capability. I am reminded of how shamelessly I can fall in love with my own voice, how deeply I can find catharsis in the thoughts that arise from the packing and unpacking of daily life, or from nowhere at all. I am allowed to revel in not knowing myself, to accept that this unknowing is not a weakness, but a journey. Who is that hunched little man sitting in the dark before a computer screen? He is unconscionably pale and wears a hard expression, yet I feel so safe with my chin on his shoulder. I hold him fast and he smells like me, for who else could he be? What strange things will I show me tonight? What futures will we write into being? The person we could become tomorrow is but the dreamy invention of the one who sleeps below the surface today. I did not choose to be a writer, but there can be no greater exertion of free will upon the course of my own life.
When people ask me what I write, I never know what to tell them, though I often suspect that the question is asked more for social obligation than genuine interest. I primarily write fiction, this is true, and I have become a deft hand at playwriting in my own time. Fiction is the mode that comes most naturally to me, as my earliest memories are couched in the texture and movement of the prose narrative. The richest lives, after all, are those which are granted the posthumous laurel of “storied.” Nonfiction and poetry are vast, mysterious lands to me, and perhaps I shall explore them one day. At present I visit them as one might travel to a foreign country; I am awed by their depth and history, but have not cultivated the discipline to learn their language. My relationship with these forms is greedy and one-sided, but with time and patience I might develop into their familiar confidant.
But what do I write? I write short pieces, I write long pieces. I write good pieces and bad pieces. Pieces begrimed, pieces ablaze. I edit and revise, and sometimes I don’t. Rarely I will write a story and then lock it in the basement of my mind, acknowledging its existence only to deliver stale cut-off bread crusts and a glass of murky water through a slot in the door. I don’t think about those stories, and neither should you. Maybe they’ll get to come out when they’ve learned their lesson (or I have, whichever comes first). And since I’m confessing, I must admit that I lied to you earlier; I’ve never written a play in my life. Lying is the dirty little secret genre that writers can only perform in their own thoughts. But in some backward sense, I don’t write anything because I have not yet been published. In the end, what is the measure of a story unread? That’s Schrödinger’s Writer: nonexistent before they’re published, but a sell-out after. You can never win against that childish part of yourself, so pick up your ball and go home.
In the decade-plus that I have been writing, nobody has ever asked me why I write. And perhaps that’s why this little essay is the way it is: wistfully meandering, occasionally bordering on penitent. This is an uncertain answer to an unasked question, a justification more to myself than to anyone else. There is no correct answer, but there are true answers and false ones. In the spirit of that logical dichotomy, I would like to frame my final response in the form of a time-honored icebreaker game: Two Truths and a Lie. Feel free to play along at home.
So Alexander, why do you write?
A, I believe that living without writing is not living.
B. I have an endless supply of stories that must be told.
C. I need to leave this world with undeniable evidence that I Was Here.
Alexander Forston (he/him) is an upcoming voice in the worlds of literary and speculative fiction. He is an MFA fiction writing student at Lindenwood University and has served as an editor for The Lindenwood Review.
Beautiful. And now you’re published.
That’s something that was on my mind all throughout writing this. That section was true, but now it’s not. I made a bit (more) of a liar of myself by sending this out, I suppose!
A delightful read through a twisting maze of thoughts full of clever crafting (Such as, the strange man before the computer: the “he” who smells like “me”, who “I” feel safe resting “my” chin on “his” shoulder, the “person” who in considering becomes “we” (albeit with an uncertain future) and yet “one” who is, without a choice [and obvious the to reader], a “writer”.) Forston served a buffet of language from savory to erudite coupled with surprises in rhythm and wit. In under 800 words, he had the audacity to leave us with an unidentified lie that rendered himself intriguing and just slippery enough in a form like speed dating to make a reader yearn for a second date—which is, to quote Caddyshack, “nice”.
Love this analogy, Cassandra. Charlie Jane Anders approaches the turbulence and uncertainty of finding what to write about with a similar speed dating metaphor in “Never Say You Can’t Survive,” and it really stuck with me there. Thank you for your kind words!
You’re most welcome, Alex, for the well-deserved praise. And, thank you for the intro to a new writer and platform. Keep publishing!
Great piece, full of unusual thoughts and personality. So maybe ass nonfiction to your repetoire.
That’s sort of the rub with talking about the anxiety of trying new things, isn’t it? The moment you actually put yourself out there, you realize you’ve been selling yourself short the whole time…
You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself. I can see you.
Finding kindred spirits and helping each other see ourselves more clearly is what art is ultimately about, I think. I hope.
It seems like it’s two truths and a deeper truth.
I’ve been asked a few times which of the given options are true and which isn’t. I don’t think I’ll ever elucidate my intentions there (it kind of ruins the fun in a way), but I appreciate this perspective. Perhaps the lie is just me being a bit harsh on myself.
This is wonderful and it really captures the mystery of why and what we write. Love your metaphor:
“Rarely I will write a story and then lock it in the basement of my mind, acknowledging its existence only to deliver stale cut-off bread crusts and a glass of murky water through a slot in the door. I don’t think about those stories, and neither should you. Maybe they’ll get to come out when they’ve learned their lesson (or I have, whichever comes first).”