If writing was a horse, I never would ride.

Great, great post. Something that 140 characters just couldn't have said. Maybe you can still write, after all.

This was the start of my response which initially started as a comment to my friend in Boston, rooroo, on her post titled "on writing." Go read it. Then, if you care to, read the rest of what became my comment.

I've often felt exactly the way she feels. As an elementary schooler, I wrote masses and masses of creative fiction -- horse stories, mainly, but I occasionally dabbled in ten-page intros to random fictional stories about weathermen, gymnasts and all sorts of things I was way under qualified (at age nine) to be writing about. At eleven, I wrote something that is still my favorite fiction I've ever written, centering around a Nassau Beach (nevermind the fact that I've never been there) seagull named Fredwick (I didn't know it was spelled Frederick).

I wrote, left-handed, sitting on my twin bed blanketed with sheets of notebook paper, using whatever pen I could find on my bedside table. My mom used to refer to me as her "ink stained wretch," the sole of my left hand always smeared with evidence of my afternoon hobby. I cataloged my writing in baskets and boxes, the curly fringe from my notebooks littering my bedroom floor. I loved to write and it was never difficult to do so. Physically, mentally and creatively, I was at my writing peak with Full House, Black Beauty and Trumpet of the Swans as my muse.

The change happened when I was tasked with writing an analysis of an excerpt from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was required for entry into my new middle school's honors "Language Arts" class. I remember staring at the question and thinking "This isn't asking me to write anything." Where was the standardized test question on how to cook a spaghetti dinner on the moon? Where was the prompt of a dragon holding a toaster that I had been weaned on in elementary school? Analysis, I decided then, isn't writing. As I read the speech, I imagined the look of the crowd, maybe a boy on his father's shoulders, and a story that could be told from his eyes about the movement. Or a basset hound who heard the speech and went on to befriend an orange tabby cat. Wild thoughts crashed together in my mind -- later I would call it my "imagination." But I pushed those tangents aside and struggled through my first analysis.

I remember getting my schedule for middle school classes on Back to School Day. There it was: Language Arts - R. We wondered what the "R" meant -- my sister pointed out that hers had an "H" next to it, clearly Honors. My mom marched my schedule over to a counselor, who explained that "R" meant "Regular." At that point, it might have well said "Remedial." I was embarrassed and ashamed -- me, the family writer, the ink stained wretch, hadn't made the grade. My analysis wasn't up to par.

I don't remember writing much of anything in middle school, creative or otherwise. But boy did I write in high school. AP essay after AP essay, I became an analysis machine. My handwriting looked like Arial Narrow 11-point font and I used roller-ball pens to keep my hands clean. I wrote on college-ruled paper because I liked how it made me write smaller, and I knew how many words I could fit on one side of the page. I still have everything I ever wrote in high school, all filed according to semester and teacher. One particular coup, when I was taking junior and senior English concurrently, was a piece entitled "Their Eyes Were Watching Gatsby," tying themes from The Great Gatsby, which I was analyzing for my junior class, to Their Eyes Were Watching God, my senior assignment.

Those pieces are some of the best analysis I'll ever write. They're probably also the most useless.

With the exception of this blog, whose only purpose is as my own one-woman reality show, I never write for fun anymore. I don't even think I have paper in my desk at home. The last time I tried to write, my hand got tired after the third sentence. Where was my keyboard? I couldn't remember how to spell "suppose" and there was no red squiggly line to help me out. But, most troubling, I couldn't think of a single story to tell. I could come up with an engaging introductory sentence, some ironic themes, and even a few metaphors. What then? Where did my imagination go?

We lose our hobbies, I think, when we get too good at them. Too trained and groomed and prodded, they become caricatures of what they were, Jon Benet-style faces that are scarily perfect. I used to have twenty six t-shirts with horses on them and seventy two plastic horses. Then, one day, I was able to name you every bone in the lower half of a horse's leg, point out the exact angle in the hoof that causes a horse to founder, and explain how they die because evolution never taught them to vomit. Wispy manes and velvet muzzles gave way to back injuries and frustrations. Somewhere went both writing and horses, and so I went: a horse-crazy, ink-stained wretch turned occasional blogger, a stiff spine and a critical eye, always looking for a limp or a lump.

4 Response to "If writing was a horse, I never would ride."

  • the madwoman Says:

    Wow. I love it when you post things with personal content. These are very astute observations and ones that hit particularly close to home....

  • Howard Says:

    "But I pushed those tangents aside ..."

    Oh, Rachel, this breaks my heart on so many levels.

    I don't typically offer advice. In fact, I almost never offer advice.

    Some advice: start writing again, now.

    Here's another useful observation about hobbies: "Our hobbies are what we do to make ourselves interesting to ourselves."

    Fuck those school teachers. Write.

  • rooroo Says:

    phew, i almost missed this... thanks for the tweet.

    anne had some similar insights about how forced writing makes us hate writing, or drives away the desire for it. i think i'm going to take stephen king and mrhe's advice and Just Write and see what happens. i have plenty of free time to do it in!

    i also agree with your other commenter that you should write more personal entries!! :)

  • the bill clerk Says:

    hey. time to go ride. how's wednesday july 22 at night?