Writing as a Release and as a Chore

Getting It Out

As a fourth-grader, I was often praised and rewarded for the essays I turned in, and I started to get the grandiose idea that I would someday grow up to be a novelist or an essay writer.  I read constantly, not only to gather information, but to learn about style, phrasing and voice.

My teachers throughout grade school and high school were excellent guides in the process of my development.  Many took a personal interest in giving me extra assignments and resources.  I should probably add that these extra assignments were never given to me as punishments, but as rewards.  They were singling me out as someone who had a potential talent to write as a professional, and the extra assignments gave me the opportunity to use tools that they were giving me beyond those they presented in the classroom.

My own insecurities took effect as I became an adolescent, and I started wondering whether in fact I was not so much “special” in regards to writing as I was demonstrating to them that I was paying attention to what they were teaching on the basics of spelling and grammar.  As I read other writers, I became envious that they seemed to have original ideas while I was practicing regurgitation but within the bounds of the rules.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. (Eccl 12:8)

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl 1:9)

As I tried to write poetry and songs, most of what I wrote was derivative of my favorite songwriters.  I was taking their ideas and trying to make them my own.  Sure, I was able to occasionally sneak in some original turns of phrase.  Sure, there were times I came up with an original rhyme.  For the most part, I was unhappy with the results.  But because of those few originalities I created, I tried to save everything in notebooks in case I needed to return to them at some future date for reference or reuse.  I envisioned that at such time it would be in the context of an original thought.

I tried my hand at fiction but again ran into the sad fact that most of my plot lines were mere variations of what I had read from other writers.  I also had a problem writing dialogue because I lack the gift of gab.  In my own conversations, I am more frequently a listener than a talker.  This is okay, because I don’t like to run on, but it causes a problem when I try to write multiple characters and imagine their conversations.

I eventually decided none of these limitations should deter me from writing just to practice writing.  I decided to work on putting sentences together, to write poetry when it struck me.  So I did, and I wrote just to write.  I did it for me, and it became a sort of release.

Our culture is based on deception.  In the majority of our social situations, we are expected to put on a good front.  Our moods are not allowed to be honestly expressed; our doubts and fears are to be kept to ourselves.  This is true in the workplace, in our politics, in our casual social settings and in our interactions with all but those in whom we place our most intimate trust.  This expectation of dishonesty, of telling people we are doing well when we aren’t, causes us to suppress emotions.  We place walls with brightly painted murals between ourselves and our society.

Nobody is perfectly happy all of the time.  Without some sort of release from the pressure of having to pretend that we are always all right and that life couldn’t be better, I would never be able to make it through some days.

[Note: This segment has been removed. MH]

That's me on fire.
That’s me on fire.

My second wife one day decided that the poems were a problem for our relationship, and she made the assumption that I was hanging onto the pain of the first relationship through the poems.  After a particularly difficult relationship talk, she waited until I had gone to sleep and destroyed the poems.  All of them.  I woke up in the middle of the night, hoping for some makeup sex, only to find that she was gone. So were the poems.

Of course, I was angry and, when she returned, explained once again why I had been saving them.  She would have none of it.  As far as she was concerned, keeping those poems that I had written were equivalent to hanging on to old keepsakes and photographs of past lovers.

The poems were part of me, and I wish that I had access to them now.  They were me, exercising my voice and practicing the phrases that I needed to use to express my emotions towards one person.  Like pictures and keepsakes, they are more permanent than any relationships that I have had. I have a poor track record when it comes to lifelong commitments.  I wanted the poems for when I was older, so that I could occasionally pull them back out and look at them, to review my life.  Should I marry again, the internet is not so easily destroyed as a batch of notebook papers. (Hah. Even with that, Google’s cache has a long memory!)

The second wife asked me one day why I never wrote poems like that for her, and she was mostly right.  I rarely did. I didn’t want to tell her that she was such a critical reader I didn’t feel free to experiment and take risks with my poetry. More importantly, performing on demand for such a critical audience would have felt like a chore. I didn’t think that she would appreciate it if I didn’t have it “just right” and original. (Writing love poems as a metaphor for marital sex?)

I didn’t have an explanation for her, but I do for the readers  of Quiche Moraine.

When we were first dating, she was still good friends with one of her old boyfriends. She had reconciled to being “just friends” over a year before I had met her. Tim was a music snob and had made many mix tapes for her.  She was living in Monroe, Louisiana. I was living in Dallas, Texas and driving to Monroe to be with her on the weekends, but I had time to spare on the weeknights.  I was often bored, so I made many mix tapes for myself and decided that with all of the CDs and LPs that I had available, I could make a killer mix tape for her.  And I did.  I thought it was a great mix tape.

The next weekend we went to a party in Monroe, and her old boyfriend was there.  They started talking about music, and she mentioned that I had made a mix tape for her but that the music was lame and that she wanted him to make her another tape.  I didn’t show that it hurt in front of her ex.  Who knows, she may have been testing me.  I just didn’t want to give him any sort of satisfaction, because I didn’t like him.  I carried this hurt with me, hidden behind a “positive attitude” front.  I finished my beer rather quickly.

I realized that if she could dismiss my mix tape, I would be risking much greater hurt if I put myself into a poem for her, only to have her compare it to something that someone else had written for her.  I never was able to put my trust in her after that, and it hurt our relationship. It was a wall between us that I could never tear down.  She blamed it on the first wife, and she was partly right.  Number one had indeed betrayed me deeply, and I had let my guard down for her.  It is a guard that I’ve always had trouble releasing since then.  But the tape didn’t help.

So now, when I write for blogs or for myself, I still see it as a release.  It is in writing that I express my experiences in ways that never feel comfortable in casual conversation.  This process still helps me practice writing, even though I no longer harbor the illusion that I will ever be a famous writer.

(Today I was at a coffee shop, and one of the customers mentioned the name Michele Bachmann in a derogatory manner.  I told him he should take a look at the “Replace Michele Bachmann” carnival at Quiche Moraine.  The barista said “Quiche Moraine?  I’ve heard of that.  It’s kind of a collaboration, isn’t it?  I read about it somewhere.”  Hello, barista, if you are reading this.)

It is sometimes a chore, because I have a deadline here at Quiche Moraine. I agreed with Greg and Stephanie that I would have a post ready on Sundays for publishing on Mondays.  Every Frickin’ Week!  I had intended for today to reuse a post I had originally written for Tangled Up in Blue Guy.

I changed my mind because I needed some release from the pressures I have been feeling lately.  The post largely wrote itself, as I started with a title and let it flow from there. I hope that you have found something original in this.

Writing this helped me.

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12 Responses to “Writing as a Release and as a Chore”

  1. May 11th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    khan says:

    No one ever wrote poems for me.

    I wrote poetry but have lost it all somewhere amid all the many relocations.of my life.

    Have recently started writing again, but not poetry; maybe the muse will return someday.

  2. May 11th, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Mike, have I ever ranted about the tyranny of the original where you’ve been around to hear it? If not, I should.

    khan, I’d say that no one’s ever written me poetry either, but all that means is that no one’s ever confessed. I doubt that most poetry, particularly of the sort written for a specific person, ever sees the light of day.

  3. May 11th, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    No, I don’t think I have heard that particular rant. Is it anything like Asimov’s “Little Tin God of Characterization”?

    Khan – have you ever heard “Dance Like No One is Watching”? Hackneyed pablum, I know, but if you ever want to try writing, just “write like no one is reading.”

  4. May 11th, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    syferdet says:

    I can totally agree with using writing as a release of some of the emotions we keep bottled up inside. I’ve gotten so attached to the characters in my television series that I try and portray a different part of me in each of my characters. Some of them are like my children, since I have none of my own in the real world.

  5. May 12th, 2009 at 11:10 am

    K. Ventii says:

    Wow, great post!

    You wrote: “the post largely wrote itself” I think that statement is a testament to the fact that the best writing comes from writing what you know.

    This post is so very personal and I think a lot of people can relate.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. May 12th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I am glad you liked it. I looked at it as a “chore” to start, but when I started I couldn’t stop. Stephanie even “snipped” a rant from it that would have made it longer.

  7. May 12th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Mike, my rant is, in fact, almost diametrically opposed to Asimov’s. But only almost. And it has West Side Story in it.

  8. May 13th, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I think I need to hear it.

  9. May 13th, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    This touches on it, but it probably deserves a full write-up.


  10. May 18th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Georganna Hancock says:

    Yes, writing can be a release for our emotions. My best poems are always created when I am in the grip of an extreme emotion. No one has ever written a poem to or about me, either, as far as I know. I’ve written ones on just about everyone I’ve ever cared for, but many have never seen them. They are not always received with the proper awe and grace.

    If my spouse had destroyed my poems (especially all the ones I wrote about/for him), I don’t think he would be my spouse much longer, if he survived the initial explosion. Now that he is my ex-spouse, I’m sure he cares even less about the poetry I wrote after the divorce, but it was very therapeutic for me. I get it out every few years, see how far I’ve come, gauge how far I have to go toward healing.

    Write on, man!

  11. May 19th, 2009 at 6:35 am

    Judy says:

    I have some of the same problems you mentioned in writing dialog, because I’m also a listener. And when I do write dialog, it is almost always between just two people. Trying to write a conversation among a group of several people is like being in a meeting at work. Gahh!

  12. February 3rd, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    Hi Mike,
    I have to say your ex sent me over here, just to see what all the fuss was about. I refer of course to Stephanie’s posting on libel accusations. (Otherwise I never would have thought to go read old posts.) In the process of reading, I’m not sure I know any more about her issues, but your story sure took me back to a time in my life. There was a boy in high school who wrote poetry to me in my yearbook. I was flattered. Nobody had done that before. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel the same intense way towards him, it was the first time someone had felt that way about me – that I knew about, anyway. I treasured that yearbook, up until the time my then-husband found and read it, got jealous, and insisted that I destroy it to “prove” that I loved him. Unfortunately I complied. I still treasure that poem, even though all these years later the only two lines I can remember are “Running mindless // Running blind.”

    There are times I know what that feels like. I just wish I could go back and re-read the entire thing.

    Your reasons for saving your writing are different from mine for wanting to save that poem. But sounds like the conflict and emotions of the spouse are similar. Thanks for writing this. And good luck with the ex.

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