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Four Years at the Mount

Why we write

August 2014

An answer

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

When asked why I do the things I do, an easy response is often, "Because I like to" or, "Because it is fun." These answers may suffice, if they are only questions asked in small talk or a casual conversation, but the truth is, I donít actually know why I do most of the things I do.

I go to work because I need to work for money. I go to school because itís what is expected of me. I run because Iím in training. I go to PT in the mornings because itís required. I read because I have always read. I write because Iíve always liked to write.

These are easy answers, answers that require no thought and donít exactly exude a lot of emotion or passion. With answers like that, Iím realizing it looks like I donít enjoy my life very much, but I do. So now I need to articulate better answers, answers that will show my passion and love for what Iím doing, show why it makes me happy, and show others what is so great about it. So today, I will focus on why I write.

10 years ago, my 9-year-old self would have responded:

I like to write because I hate math. Really, math is no good. I know we need it to function and live and whatnot, but it just seems too restricted and I donít have any room for creativity.

Then I would have gone to middle school and my 12-year-old self would say:

I really like my English teacher Mrs. Doria, so that is why I like to write. Today, she let me write a story about why I love bacon as long as I used all my vocab words.

High school came next and I would have said:

Well I thought I liked to write, but these summer assignments didnít get done until the day before the deadline, so maybe itís not that fun.

So youíre getting the point. I went through years of not really having a reason to write, but just knowing I liked it better than other subjects. I didnít journal or do anything outside of my required schoolwork; I simply noticed a significant difference in stress level between doing a math problem and writing an English essay. I didnít start to love to write until after I realized how important it is.

This realization happened slowly and several different times before it stuck. The process began sophomore year of high school when I joined the yearbook staff. It was there that I fell in love with journalistic writing. I was never the best because I wasnít the most creative, but I loved the way that I could capture things in my copies that I couldnít in my photographs. I could take a stunning picture of a touchdown on a Friday night, but I couldnít at the same time capture the sound of the coachís scream, or the emotion because that touchdown had just made the team district champions. I couldnít show the tears in the fatherís eyes as he watched his son win the game or the excitement from the student section. The only way I could put all of this into one spot and one memory was in writing, so thatís what I did. I started to write down smells, sounds, and emotions to go along with all of the pictures I took. I started to realize that when people see these photos they want to know the story behind them. So this was my gateway into writingóyearbook copies and photo captions. So my 17-year-old self would have said I write to capture and preserve memories.

So my love for journalistic writing was born, and it grew as I grew into the yearbook world and continued after I left. Last month I went on a mission trip to Haiti and had the best week of my life, but I was afraid I was going to forget things. I knew I wouldnít forget the sights or the love or anything major, but I was afraid to forget the orphansí names, ages, what they liked to do, which kids warmed up to me on which days and which ones didnít like crafts but only wanted to play outside. So for the first time, I took the advice of my team leaders and I wrote in a journal. I hadnít put my feelings down in a journal before, mainly because I donít often read my own writing, so a journal seemed kind of silly. But it wasnít silly, it was exactly what I needed to keep all of these memories in one place. And here, just last month, I fell in love with the way I can write whatever I want down to remember exactly how I felt in each moment. So in this way, I write to capture and to remember.

Discovering this side of writing was certainly incredible, but as an English Literature major, my passion for analytical writing is what drives all forms of creativity. Although it may not be the most creative of all writing, it is my foundation for my work. Having an English teacher as a mother, I always said I liked the subject, and also always said I wanted to be an English teacher, but it wasnít until 11th grade that I fell in love with this sort of writing. My English Language and Composition teacher tortured us from the beginning of the year with constant writing assignments and analytical tasks that she promised "would feel easier soon." I didnít believe her, but soon those four-hour assignments began to only take three hours, then two, and by the end of the year I was doing them in 20 minutes. Over this time where I was improving without realizing it, I began to love the way that I could read this text and have a thousand ideas running through my head, and I could somehow make sense of them by simply writing them down. I realized that what had been torturous months ago, I now got excited about doing. I actually looked forward to doing homework for the first time in my life. It was then that I fell in love with the way that I could finally make sense of things through writing.

Now I know if somebody asks me why I do anything I can probably come up with better answers with a little thought. I donít just work because I need money; I work because I enjoy being productive and love my co-workers. I donít just go to school because I should; I go because I really love to learn and I want to better myself. I run because itís freeing, I go to PT because itís motivating and the other cadets are amazing people, I read to enter another universe and I write for so many reasons. I still probably wonít have the best answer as to why I write unless anyone wants to hear me talk for two hoursówhich nobody doesóbut at least now I have an answer myself. Well, I have several answers. Although my younger self didnít know why I wrote, I write to capture memories, my own and those of other people. I write to remember details that would never stick in my head otherwise. I write to make sense of things, all things from texts and passages to life problems. I write because it doesnít matter if Iím good at it, if I have the best structure or the best word choice. It doesnít matter if I canít figure out where to start or where to end, because itís all mine Ė my memories, my thoughts, my view on the world.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

The power of a pen

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

"Thatís not even what I was saying!" Jillian shouted as she grabbed the paper from her motherís hands and stormed up the wooden stairs. "You just donít understand!" She marched into her bedroom and closed the door behind her before opening it again and slamming it much harder to get her point across. Jillian crumbled up that dumb sheet of paper that was supposed to mean so much and threw it across the room. She flopped onto her bed, and put her face in her pillow. "Ugh!" she cried. She had so many emotions and thoughts running through her mind and had no idea how to sort them all. Why did high school have to be so stressful?

While Jillian was lying there, she began to hear scratching at her door. She ignored it at first but then realized that it wasnít going to be stopping anytime soon. Reluctantly, Jillian got up and opened her bedroom door just enough for her cat Addie to push her way into the room.

Jillian sat back down on her bed and Addie jumped up beside her. Jillian tried to formulate her thoughts and think through the situation but couldnít figure out where to begin. "What do you think, Addie?" Jillian asked. Addie just looked at her and begged for her ears to be rubbed. "Youíre no help either," Jillian said.

Thinking it was the only activity that could help, Jillian decided to grab her journal from the bedside drawer and pick up a pen. She flipped it open to an empty page and stared at it, wondering where to begin and if writing anything down would even help. Addie, who had started to doze off at the foot of the bed, got up and walked over towards Jillian. She started to nudge Jillianís hand as if encouraging her to just write already. Jillian rolled her eyes but took the hint and let her hand flow freely across the page.

The pen glided effortlessly along the lines of the notebook as they carried Jillianís thoughts. Her emotions poured out through each word she wrote. Her left hand slid quickly from one side of the page to the other, smearing the ink along the curve of her hand. Once she began to write there was no stopping her, and soon Jillian had filled multiple pages with everything from journaling, to poems, to short stories. Taking a deep breath, she looked down at what sheíd written. In a way she felt as if the things sheíd made were not her own. It was almost as if when she wrote she transcended herself, or maybe it was when she was most completely connected with her inner self. She wasnít quite sure, but she didnít want to question it too much.

Jillian looked across the room at the red numbers on the clock and realized that she had been writing for over an hour. It was so easy for her to get swept away in words that she could easily forget everything else. Maybe that is why it was such a good stress reliever for her.

Feeling much better, Jillian got out of bed and went to pick up the piece of paper she had crumbled. She found it and flattened it out to reread its contents. In big bold letters across the top it stated, "SAT Test Results," three words that were more than enough to give anyone a heart attack. Jillian looked back down at her scores. Yes, her parents were right that she didnít do that well in math and that colleges might predict her to be unfit for their university because of it, but she did decent in critical reading and her writing score was outstanding. Jillian was honestly proud of herself for achieving such a high score and wished that her parents would be proud of her as well. She sighed once again with disappointment.

Just then there was a knock at her door. "Finally", Jillian thought, "It took them long enough." She let her parents into her room and they all sat down on her bed. "Jillian, we are sorry for what we said. We realized that it came off with a lot more anger than we felt or even intended," her mother said, trying to comfort her. "We really are proud of you and we understand that you donít want to have to take the test again. We are fine with that now if that is still your decision," Jillianís father said reassuringly. Jillian accepted their apology but also thought that retaking the test might not be such a horrible idea after all.

She sat and talked with her parents for a few moments, relieved that they were on good terms once again and that her emotions were no longer controlling the situation. Previously her parents had been upset when Jillian mentioned her dream of becoming a writer, but now they spoke with concern out of love. "Jillian, are you sure thatís what you want? You might not be able to find a job or make any money," her mother said. "Mom, I love it. When I write, everything just seems okay. Itís like my therapy and I am good at it. Itís truly what I am passionate about. The world makes more sense when I have a pen in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me," Jillian continued to explain. Luckily Jillianís parents responded with support for her and whatever her dreams may be. As Jillianís parents got up to leave the room, her father turned around and smiled at Jillian, "I think youíre an excellent writer and I always want you to follow your dreams no matter what they may be."

Jillianís eyes widened and a smile broke out across her face. She had finally gotten her parents to see how important writing was to her and how much she loved it. Filled with joy, Jillian slammed her journal shut that had been lying open on her bed. "Until next time," Jillian mumbled as she closed her problems, passions, and dreams away between the pages. She giggled with excitement, thinking of the possibility that one day some of her writings from that journal could be published. "One day," she said as she held tightly onto her dreams. With a smile still on her face, Jillian scooped Addie up from the end of her bed. She hugged her cat closely and Addie began to purr quietly as if to say, "I told you it would all work out in the end."

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Sending out a message

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

This month I am tasked with answering a rather difficult question; "Why do I write?" Itís a question that is as intrinsically linked to the creative process as any Iíve ever answered. I pride myself on my skill with the English language and I love having a plethora of words available at any point, so it is with some shame that I say, and youíll have to pardon the joke, I truly have no words for why I write.

What I do have is a simple feeling. It was best summed up by a game designer named Edmund McMillen. McMillen, who talked about his artistic drive for the award winning documentary, Indie Game, summed up his need to make games as a desire to connect with other people, people that he was afraid he wouldnít like or who wouldnít want him. His desire to make something was driven by a need to create a dialogue with the people who experienced the finished product as much as it was about the product itself.

Thatís where I come in. For the longest time, Iíve known that I want to be a writer and a storyteller. Everywhere I look I see the inspiration for a story, article, or fiction piece. I love the world. Really and truly I do. I have never found or heard of a more interesting place, with a more fascinating set of characters than the world in which we live. I would look around, watch people interact with each other, and see the world that they inhabited. I would make notes of the things they did and said in my head and I was continually blown away by just how compelling everything was when I could take a step back and let it sink in. When I was little, I used to get in trouble for sneaking out of my bed at night just to go write at the old desk in our toy room. I was surrounded by all manner of action figures, yet I found myself drawn to a blank page rather than Stretch Armstrong.

Hereís a perfect example: a few years back I was driving to the local Taco Bell with some friends after a long day of school. I didnít intend to find any inspiration that day or do any sort of mental writing, but as we pulled into the parking lot I took notice of a young couple walking out of the restaurant hand in hand. They couldnít have been much older than I was at the time, making them somewhere in their early twenties. The man had a scraggly tuft of hair growing out of his chin that made him look a lot like a goat. He wore the kind of beat up hat you see advertised alongside Levi jeans and punk rock bands. His girlfriend was thin, but not unhealthily so, with hair that looked like it had been dyed so many times that the natural color was long since forgotten. On that particular day it was stained a dark magenta. Every inch of their bodies from their wrists to their shoulders, from the space where their Doc Martins ended and their cargo shorts began was covered in tattoos. Both of them had the kind of gages that stretched their earlobes into mini Hadron Colliders. But above all else, they were happy. Blissfully happy. Their hands were wrapped tightly around one another, and each step that they took bounced with the steady, pleasant gait of two people who had been comfortably in love for quite some time. I stood there for only half a second, trapped in the space between my beat up Nissan and the asphalt, watching their progress and marveling that in a world with so many billions of people, two humans could find themselves in someone else. They could find their mirror image, hold hands with that person, and eat greasy, terrible, food together. In that moment, they were more than a tattooed couple to me; they were a moving marvel.

Then one of my friends muttered, "Weirdos," under his breath, taking the moment and the marvel away as quickly as it came. The problem with taking the world in one breath at a time is that not everyone else does, and more importantly. very few people understand that view. I have a hard time connecting with other people and I honestly think thatís part of the reason behind it. In that instant, I saw untold beauty and purpose in two people who were just looking to share a cheap meal together. Regardless, I found something in them that I truly appreciated. The sad thing is that there really isnít a great way to articulate the things that I see and the little stories I write in my head. More often than not, my mouth just kind of hangs open or the wrong words spill out to the point where I very rarely try and say those things anymore. Itís not that I donít have friends or social nuances; itís that forging deep, lasting connections with other people is difficult when you know that the world they see and the world you see are so drastically different.

How do you tell your poker buddies about the quiet joy of watching a little boy clamber up the slide by himself for the first time, how his face burst into a smile of triumph more akin to Hercules than to a three-year-old? Is there any real way to explain to your blind date about the heartbreaking vignette that happened when you passed by the retirement home? How an old woman verbally accosted a jogger, pulling them into conversation, and realizing from the loneliness that punctuated her words that itís the first real conversation sheís had in a while. You canít really bring up how it felt like you got punched in the gut when she mentioned her dementia-riddled husband just as the jogger trotted away, leaving her confession to the open air. I wish there was a way to tell someone about it, but the truth is, sometimes it feels like you just canít.

But thatís the amazing thing about writing. Of all the mediums of art, itís one of the few that actively requires two participants to be fully successful. When somebody paints or sculpts, thereís always a finished product. Whether itís a lump of clay or a piece of canvas, the work of the artist has fruit. For someone who writes, however, the art is made when someone else picks up what weíve written and takes it in. The beautiful images and scenes donít occur in the physical world, but in the thoughts and feelings of the people who read. It is in that action, the author putting something down and the reader transforming that into emotions and images, that a real connection occurs. Think of all the people in the world who relate so earnestly to the characters in Harry Potter or Huck Finn. People donít just read these tales; they relate to them. A part of what the author wanted to say fused with the conscious thoughts of the reader, and in that instant there is an understanding.

Thatís why I do what I do. So that everyone who picks up a poem, or reads the first two sentences of an article, or just glances at the title of one of my works connects with me in some small way. If they read for an hour, half an hour, or even 5 minutes, they can see what I see, hear what I hear, and hopefully feel what I feel. In that time I can make the tattooed couple as real for them as it was for me, and in that moment we fully understand each other. Iím Kyle Ott. Wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

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