“We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin
A Letter to Friends and Family From Someone That Writes for a Living
I know what you think. That I’m self-centered and antisocial. That when we’re all together, I just sit there, saying nothing. That my attention is always elsewhere. That I’m not paying attention to the conversation.
This may be a result of being a writer – of having writing deadlines almost every day. I live with an urgent need for input – stories, facts, and conversations that could help invent and illustrate the ideas I’m going to be advocating in one of my essays, blog posts, or books.
Here’s what I want you to know. I amlistening. But I’m listening in a way that is more like auditing. I’m listening and trying to understand what is important or memorable about the conversation. I’m listening the way a person might listen to a panel discussion, knowing that later on – in a week or a month or a year – he would have to summarize it, touching on the most interesting nuances.
I’m looking at you, in particular, and I’m paying attention to your body language. And I’m hearing every word you are saying. I am paying attention because I find you interesting. And because I love you. I am not only hearing what you say, I’m thinking about why you are saying it. I’m thinking about how you became the person you are. I am comparing what you are saying to what you’ve said before. I’m noticing your tone of voice. I’m trying to feel your pain. And I’m also searching for answers.
Yes, there are moments when I slip away. You can see that in my eyes. But I’m not going away from you. I’m actually taking mental notes because I want to remember what you said.
From your perspective, I am always turning inward. But writing for me is a way of reaching out. It’s where and how I can say everything I would have said if I weren’t so bent on recording what everyone else is saying.
Writing is in some ways harder than speaking. It takes more thought and a more ruthless approach to feeling. Most of all, it takes time, because our early drafts are almost always unsatisfactory. They don’t convey our best thoughts or our true feelings.
Since the output takes longer, the input must too, because we need lots of details to work on. And that kind of input usually involves listening without talking.
So that’s what’s happening when you think I’m not paying attention to you.
But here’s the thing: I’m jealous of you. I see you having those good conversations, and they look like fun. There was a time in my life when I had such conversations, and they were not just fun. They were deeply felt and empathetic. I’d like to have them again.
I would. But I’m 69 and I’m still writing. I’ve still got deadlines. And my “final” deadline is getting closer, so I’m working hard to get it all done before that fateful day. In the meantime, or afterwards, you can find out exactly how much I took from your conversations and what my thoughts and feelings were by simply reading what I’ve written.
I know. I hear you. You already know me. You don’t need to read me too.
But the person you know is more than the person that is so bad at social conversation. He’s also the person that is writing this letter. He is a person that cares about you and what you have to say and wants to take some time to think about it before responding.