Nothing new today, sorry, so another dip into the ol' archives. This is the essay that got me into Harvard (in retrospect, a decidedly mixed blessing). Most people who read it have enjoyed it, I hope you do, too!
Why I Love to Write, and other great titles
Writing is better than sex. I’ve never actually had sex, but I have been assured by reliable sources that it is not even on par with a good piece of chocolate. Never having been much of a dessert man myself, I do not think it much of an Aristotelian leap to therefore affirm that writing an essay trumps the coital act at least three times out of four. I’ve only just finished the first paragraph of this essay, and I’d take this over first base any day.
Back in seventh grade, while my friends dreamt of smashing guitars at the Isle of Man or wowing audiences at Cannes, I harbored a fantasy of a different ilk: I wanted to be James Joyce. Unlike my third grade pirate phase, this wasn’t an eye-patch thing – I wanted to write. I suppose that this desire emanated from my love of reading. I was an early bloomer in that department, if not in any other. I do not greatly exaggerate if I say that I read Crime and Punishment at an age when most of the recommended reading for my peers was waterproof. It seems awfully puerile now, but at the time the thought running through my head was a simple “Hey, I could do this.” My youthful confidence proved well-founded: my first short story, an action-adventure about the secret life of our golden retriever, garnered rave reviews from my parents. Later on, when I would realize that I was probably not even Oprah Book Club material, my passion had only grown stronger: like crack cocaine, writing had become a habit I could no longer break (as one can see, I’m especially gifted in the simile department).
At first, I was enthralled by the power of creation. I was Author; I controlled the universe within my pages. A few movements of my pen could determine the destinies of millions. Most of my output during that phase consisted of hot and heavy love stories in which I starred opposite a young Audrey Hepburn.
Over the years, my motivation has matured from an exercise in power to a quest for truth. Writing is an intensely personal journey, yet at the innermost depths of an individual lie universal truths. I can read centuries-old novels and identify with the characters; I can read about the strange daily routines of a foreign people and feel absolute kinship. To me, reading and writing are deeply spiritual exercises: I become part of a greater human consciousness, I form a bond with countless souls past and present in our shared human experience. Is it not amazing that the words of Shakespeare can resonate within our hearts as much now as they did hundreds of years ago? Today, only about a third of my stories focus on Audrey Hepburn.
Now that I am older I hate James Joyce. A writer feels no greater elation than when he stumbles upon an original idea, or even an original treatment of an old idea. The high lasts for months; to think that no one else has thought of it yet! The book starts to take form in the mind’s eye, one can almost touch the pages, almost smell the binding glue. Oh, to relish in the happy impatience of waiting for the next vacation, the first opportunity to bang it all out! I hate James Joyce because he makes these feelings so painfully rare. I worship Ulysses, which has formed my way of thinking like no other work I’ve ever read; however, for purely professional reasons, reading it launched me into a month-long depression. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “it is the book to which we are all indebted and from which none of us can escape.” How can I top that? Being a writer after Joyce feels akin to being the rebound date for Mary Todd: it’s one heck of an act to follow.
Okay, so I’ll never be James Joyce. Let’s face it, I’ll never be Tom Wolfe either, no matter how many white ties I own. The thing is, I can’t stop writing. I cannot envision myself doing anything but when I grow up – there is an emptiness in my soul that can only be filled in front of a blank, expectant page. It does not matter to me if I’ll never write the next great novel; if Ulysses was right about the whole metempsychosis thing, and I think it was, then in a way I already am James Joyce.
Or maybe I should just forget about the whole thing and start working on my pick-up lines.