Re-learning the joy of writing
In third grade, I couldn’t wait to write in cursive, and I didn’t think the system was fair. It wasn’t fair that other students got to learn their names in cursive before me because their names were shorter or had letters closer to the beginning of the alphabet. By the time we got to R, I was sure I would be 80.
My mother took a marker—meticulously labeled “CP” to differentiate from my brother’s markers—and wrote my name so I could copy it and practice. The tilt. The difficult task of a slightly rounded “r” and then two humps for the “n.” If done too fast, the configuration looks like an “m.”
I watched her write my name and write her name and jot things down. And now that I’m grown, I mostly see three rippling dots, letting me know that she is typing back.
Call the pulmonologist.
Check your email.
What’s going on with your car?
The instant communication is far from the piles of notebooks in my granny’s room, who kept scraps of paper with numbers, addresses, and names. Her stacked notebooks are filled with accounting. Bills and taxes and percentages and everything I still can’t do with a host of apps and googling.
And her writing reminds me of a chalkboard in my sister’s house that I would look to when babysitting and plan: Nap. Bottle. Lunch options. I would rock my nephew and watch my niece color and look to the board to see if I was doing it right.
When my Aunt Tarita taught me the recipe for her rolls, she had me write my own, step by step.
“Write it down in a way you understand,” she said.
And I tried my best, scrawling details, short descriptions, and tips.
Directions also came from my Aunt Kay, who helped me write routes to common places in the city. I, with $20 to my name, would drive from her house to an internship site with the directions open in the passenger seat for reference. And I’d call for help when I inevitably got lost.
My mom likes to tell me that I’m the writer in the family, but I disagree. We are all writers. Didn’t her instructions tell me what food to reheat? Didn’t notes jotted on the back of used envelopes contain the most important information? Don’t our group chats still sustain us, give us life?
I often think of what it means to write or to be a writer. As a student, I write a lot: responses and arguments and critiques and discussion questions and literature reviews and analyses and discussion sections and applications and abstracts and emails. And I teach writing classes, too.
And, yet, writing, lately, feels like something I am striving to do, not something I am already doing, or that I have been doing my entire life since I could. Writing feels very different now than it did when I was in third grade, not-so-patiently waiting to complete my name, to say: this is me.
I began this substack as a space to begin the process of re-learning to write. I want to remember what it is like to write, not for a publication or a line on a CV, not for a committee to approve or disapprove, but for the simple purposes of making sense of my life, of exploring, of kindling some joy.
As my aunt told me, when mixing together the dough, “Write it down in a way that you understand.”
I’m writing now. I write to understand.