Why Write? A Reflection on Writing vs. Talking


Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with a few students who wanted the opportunity to revise their midterm take-home essay exams because they were not satisfied with their grades.  As I sat down with each one to go over their paper, I realized that, for the most part, they understood the material and could express their ideas clearly when talking to me about them. The problem came when they tried to put their words in writing. They simply cannot express themselves as clearly or logically in a written form.

After talking to these students, I returned home to my 9-year-old daughter who moans, groans and complains every time she has to write a paragraph–and she has a lot of paragraphs to write this year. “I don’t know what to say,” she says. “Can you help me?”

“What do you have to write about?”

Sometimes it is a response to a reading, or a prompt to use her imagination and tell a creative story. I will ask her questions, and she can (usually) answer them. If she can’t answer them, I tell her to reread the passage, and then she is able to answer well. In terms of creativity I’ve heard her make up stories inspired by something small, and sat through endless puppet shows created by her and her friends. She has also written numerous poems that you can find sprinkled throughout my blog posts. But, when it comes to assignments for school, she struggles. Her topic sentences are often vague. Her supporting details are sometimes weak. Her concluding sentences non-existent.

Like the college students, she struggles with conveying ideas in a written form.

As a teacher, I’ve often struggled with my own inability to understand why people have difficulty writing. I know, it sounds naive, because everyone has skills that differ from each other. But expressing myself in words has always come naturally to me. When talking to these students or my daughter, they express themselves in words. So why, I wonder, is it so difficult to put those words onto the page?

It’s possible, I suppose, that the difference lies in how people use their brains. The students that I have been working with are predominantly business majors, so I am sure their comfort with numbers, statistics, and graphs is much higher than my own.

But still, that doesn’t explain the gap between the ability to talk fluently about something and the ability to write eloquently and logically about the same topic.

Perhaps the difference lies in how we perceive writing. To me writing is part of my thought process. When I need to work through a problem or an issue, I write. When I am frustrated or angry about something, I write. At times I have even written letters or e-mails to explain an important issue to someone. I am more confident in my ability to express myself in writing than I am in my ability to talk.

Why? Well, as a talker I have a few habits that I have never successfully broken, especially if I am nervous:

  • I giggle
  • I talk with my hands
  • I pace.

In other words, I do all the things I shouldn’t do if I want to be a great speaker. Somehow these habits in addition to my short stature makes me seem less authoritative even when I am the expert in the room.

However, when I write nobody knows what I look like. Nobody hears the giggles or sees the talking hands. Nobody notices my quirks and my pacing.

When I write, I become the speaker I wish I could be.

For me writing is my language of comfort. For my students they communicate in other ways. In Introductory Theater courses I usually give an option for my projects which allows for any type of presentation; including written papers, performed scenes, artistic projects, etc. I try to leave it open-ended to allow for the variety of learners that come to my classes.  For this upper-division course, however, which is filled with seniors, I am requiring written research/analysis papers as their final project.

Am I doing them an injustice by demanding that they express themselves in writing?

These are students who will soon walk out into the world. Most of them will enter the world of business. Most of them will never have to write another long paper. They’ ll never have to do library research. They’ll never have to turn in a written document with a well-thought out argument.

But then again, maybe they will. If they want to move up in the business world, they need to be able to express themselves clearly. They need to be able to write  well-constructed letters; develop well-thought out and researched reports. They need to be able to express themselves in ways beyond the numbers and graphs.

In other words, they need to be able to write.

And I need to be able to speak the words I write.

We all have something to learn.



My Fatal Flaw

I think too much!

Thinking is getting in my way of accomplishing anything.

Why is this a fatal flaw? Because my thinking gets in the way of my doing.

Every day I read another story that makes me think, “Why is this world so insane?” This morning I started crying after reading a story about Trayvon Martin, shot and killed by someone who has not been charged, even though it sounds suspicious and like racial profiling.

“Why is our world filled with so much hate?” I thought. But, my thinking led me nowhere.

Every day I hear about more of the craziness of this upcoming election and the War on Women and the possibility of war with Iran and so on . . . and my head begins to spin with all the thoughts in it.

I can’t silence the thoughts.

The more thoughts that creep into my head, the less capable I seem to be about getting anything written or doing anything. I just sit and think, and think some more.

Today, in a feeble attempt to get out of my head, I went for a walk, carrying my weights in my hands for extra exercise. That helped, as I did some arm work walking down the street and counted in my head, only alert for cars coming so I didn’t look like a complete fool. You can’t think when you are counting and trying to avoid embarrassment.

Tired of that, I put my weights in my bag and kept walking, trying to focus on my steps and the conversations of the birds around me.

A car pulled into a driveway in front of me. It looked like my friend Jackie’s car, so of course my thoughts wandered to missing her and wondering how to make new friends here. As I approached the driveway, I noticed men in suits walking back to the car. These were older men, probably in their 50s or 60s. One of them approached me and offered me an invitation to a “celebration of Jesus’ death” including a nicely printed pamphlet.

Yes folks, the Jehovah’s Witnesses managed to find me even when I wasn’t home.

This, of course, led me to thinking about how so many of the problems of the world come from religion. They come from the desire for people to THINK that somehow we are special, unique, designed by a higher power to fulfill a specific purpose, one that makes us superior to everything else on earth.

As I was thinking these deep thoughts, a gray creature crossed the road in front of me. I stopped and tried to quickly and quietly pull my camera out so I could get a picture. The creature turned its face toward me, saw me in the distance, and casually walked away before I had my camera fully out.

I think it was a gray fox.

Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Panama English: Gray fox

Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Panama English: Gray fox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I walked up to where the animal had been, hoping to see some evidence and be able to get a picture. Nothing. As I turned away, my friends the JW’s pulled into the driveway near me.

“Is this your house?” They asked.

“No, I was just trying to get a picture of something I saw. I’m not sure what it was.”

“I had to buy a camera because we saw a turkey vulture,” the driver said. “How often do you get to see one of those?”

We talked for a few more minutes about seeing animals in nature, and the fact that this mysterious creature was heading over the ridge toward this man’s house. We did not discuss Jesus.

“Don’t get eaten,” I joked as I wandered along my merry way.

As I continued to walk, with my camera out and ready for anything I might see, I realized that for a moment I wished I were that fox, or one of the birds that seemed to be having delightful conversations all around me. They weren’t worried about women’s rights or religion or racism. They didn’t think about whether or not they were successful, or were talented enough to write a book, or would ever feel like they were achieving their goals.

The fox’s life is simple, I thought. Eat, drink, find places to be safe. Kill or be killed. Lie in the sun, or curl up in a warm den. They don’t have to think all the time.

The birds’ goals were simple, to live each moment, to enjoy the gorgeous day, to find food and/or a mate, and perhaps to sing their lovely songs.

I came back, hoping I had found a sense of peace, a place where thinking did not interfere. But then I began catching up on some reading for this writing course I am taking. And of course, the inevitable happened: my thinking brain and inner critic started saying wicked things like, “You will never be a writer. You could never be as good as this person. This is all just a waste of time.

See, I told you, I think too much.

Maybe I need to stop thinking and go watch some more birds.

Thinking About Silence

Silent sunrise in the back woods.

I have been thinking a lot about silence lately.

The silence that comes when my own screaming voice seems to run out of words.

The silence of women who watch as the government tries to strip us of our voices, our control of our own bodies, our rights to live as equals in a world where men wish to control the power.

The silence of people who watch and support hatred, racism, bullying, inequality rather than speak out in a world where the loudest, squeakiest wheel holds the power.

The silence of my blog, where I write and write, and pour my soul out to reach only the few who choose to listen, who choose to hear.

The silence of my house, where I struggle to find purpose after an adventure full of purpose.

I have been thinking about choosing silence. Choosing not to speak, because it is too hard. Choosing not to defend your beliefs, your dreams, your hopes. Choosing to stand by and let the world continue without you, since your loudest screams and calls do not seem loud enough.

But choosing silence does not work.

I cannot teach my daughter silence.

I have been thinking about the times I have spoken and the times I have not. About the words I have written and the words I can not write.

I have been thinking about what kind of voice I want mine to be.

I have no answers.

But I believe that, if I listen to my own silence, eventually I will find a way to be heard.

Sitting in silence, hoping for some answers.

Luck, Life, and Inspiration

My mind is working at a frenetic pace, bouncing from thought to thought, image to image, idea to idea. It almost feels like my brain is full of thousands of fireflies, butterflies, and hummingbirds racing around in a magical dance whose meaning I could understand and interpret if only I knew the secret language of their nearly silent song.

Despite this chaotic dance, I feel the need to post. Writing for me is a way of making meaning, yet, even as I write I still feel confused. So today I want to share some of the fleeting thoughts and images that have added to the mental disarray.

This week the world offered me many messages. So I will share with you the glimpses of meaning from signs around me:

  • A friend posted an article (which I can’t find at the moment) that questions the possibility of ever finding true happiness–because the definition of happiness (as it exists in modern times) is unachievable. Whenever we get what we think will make us happy, we look toward the next thing that will make us happy. This article has me thinking, perhaps rather than looking for happiness I need to work towards living joyously on a moment by moment basis, no matter what life brings.
  • Teresita over at The Incredible Lightness of Seeing never fails to touch me with her photography and reflections on life. But this week it seems that almost every photo she takes has a message for my soul. Below are some of her images that have spoken to me this week. Click on them to link to the blog posts so that you can read her beautiful words.

This entrance to a garden seems like the entrance to a world I cannot see, but can sense on my horizon. It is the entrance to a world of possibilities waiting for me to discover them. I need to take a few steps forward without fear, and then I will uncover something wonderful. I know it.

I can't quite explain what message this image has for me, except that somehow it gives me a sense of hope and a sense of peace.

This image, partially because I love these colors, had many messages for me. It my made me think about what colors I love, and why. What scenes I want to have in my life, and why. What makes me feel at home, and why. This image also led me to another image by a different blogger who I had never visited before, but whose image also fed this mix of inspiration swirling around in my head. That image follows, with a link to her blog as well.

This image spoke to me for a number of reasons. I love the colors, which to me are the colors of fall. But more than that, it led me to think about the colors of my life. What colors do I surround myself with, and why? What colors do I want to fill my life with, and why? What world do I want to see in a place that I call home, and why? These thoughts float around in the swirl in my brain, helping me understand what I am looking for. Someday, I will understand. This image also led me to the next image from Sahlah, a blog I had never visited before.

To me this image shows the swirl of possibility and beauty that is in my head as well as in my life.

  •  I am so grateful for the above images, as they helped me open my eyes differently in a week that has been full of highs and lows, stresses and joys, and a whole lot of fear of the unknown. The final thing I wish to share with you today are some pictures I took the other day, as I tried to be open to the present moment in a new way. Enjoy.

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Today’s Quote: 

The Mind Body Connection

Today I am thinking a lot about the process of aging, and the connections between our minds and our bodies. I would love to think that the mind can overpower the body, but the reality is more complex. We cannot just think ourselves healthy, but at the same time I believe our minds play an important role in the healing process.  I have spent the last week trying to encourage my mind to stay positive, so that healing can begin in all sorts of ways. Today, my mind energy is with my sister who is undergoing her second round of open heart surgery in a year. I cannot be with her in person, so my mind energy is the only thing I have to offer at the moment.

But is that energy enough?

I’ve spent the last 6 days in a battle with my own body. On Sunday my back decided that it had had enough of whatever it thought I was doing and chose to rebel with as much pain as it possibly could. My brain would tell my back what to do, and the muscles in my back said “we don’t have to listen to you!”

They didn’t listen and my mind went into a panic.

Sunday night consisted of extreme gymnastics. I’m not the world’s greatest sleeper (as you may have noticed from former blog posts) and when I do sleep I have the tendency to toss and turn a lot.  On Sunday, in order to change positions in bed, I had to go to extreme measures and contortions involving a combination of falling out of bed, climbing the wall, and  using my arms to pull my body into the nearest comfortable position I could find. Comfort which would only last a short time before my acrobatic act had to begin again.

Needless to say, medical help seemed to be in order.

One emergency room trip later (as I still have to find a local doctor) and I had pain killers with codeine and muscle relaxants.  Now my mind entered a new relationship with my body. My mind said “I am going to float around here with the fuzzy clouds”

My body said, “I’ll pretend you don’t hurt but watch out, when you least expect it, whammo!”‘

I tried to meditate to help with the healing, but my mind refused to cooperate. Sleep seemed the only solution.

I had some things that I couldn’t avoid this week. I had already postponed auditions for a show two times, and felt that it was necessary to do them this week.  My mind said “go for it!”

My body said “Ok, I guess.”

I went for it, and felt good about it, but now my brain is undecided about how to cast because it was still in a fuzzy zone when I watched the auditions. Ah well, at least I got them done.

Last night, I didn’t take any medication, and I was able to sleep more comfortably. I could turn over without agony or  contortions  that would compete with Chinese Acrobats. Healing has begun.

But, the occasional twinge reminds me that my back still has a mind of its own.

This morning, I watched the most recent episode of Bones, where the issue of age played an interesting role. Booth got out of bed to a pounding knock on his door. As he made his way to the door, everything in his body that could crack, cracked. Bones heard this internal drum line and commented on the fact that he was at an age where his bone structure was deteriorating.  Hmmm, I thought, he is around my age probably. And I enjoy a couple of cracks here and there, as it releases pressure I didn’t know I had. But, is that pressure in my mind or in my body, or in both?

Today, I cannot pay any attention to this battle between my mind and my body. I need to send my mind energy, my healing energy, toward my sister.  I cannot be there in person, so I have to be there in mind. But, given the relationship between my mind and body this week, will that be helpful or harmful to her body?

Only time will tell.

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