At first I wrote because my mom said I was excellent at telling tall tales, and it’s always nice to be excellent at something besides making a ventriloquist dummy of a rubber-worm fishing lure sing “Free to Be … You and Me.”
Then I wrote to impress my grandfather who’d thumped me on the forehead with a thick knuckle for popping a butt dent into his antique trunk. I announced in a letter: “Don’t you know I’m going to be a famous arthur?!” And he wrote back: “When yu our a famous arthur mebbie you kin teech me to spell good.”
When I moved from place to place as a kid, I wrote to be less invisible.
For the brief time that I attended an overzealous church school I wrote my prayers on paper because I thought it gave them weight. I call it my Julian of Norwich period. Amidst my hand-stapled wallpaper book series Southern Belles and Their Ponies in Outer Space you’ll also find the pious Please Help My Mom Stop Using Sweet-N-Low Because Studies Show It Causes Cancer In Lab Mice and Also Heal the Mice.
I write to twist painful things into comedy. Though sometimes I just twist the painful things into something I can make sense of.
At a creative writing conference, I was asked this same question: “And why do you write?” Back then I answered, “Because I’ve always done it. Like breathing. It’s just a part of me.” And then we took turns drumming on a djembe and held hands in a human chain that stretched from the water pitchers and Dixie cups to the table of remaindered books going for three dollars apiece and a haiku.
You know that scene in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff says of losing Catherine, “I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” Me and writing. Right there.
I just asked my eleven-year-old daughter why she writes. She said, “For the joy and happiness of telling a good story.” This reminds me that sometimes I write to find my way back to being eleven.
I once studied with Irish poet Richard Murphy. He was seventy-something at the time, standing well over my 5’10 frame, telling stories of his days with C.S. Lewis and Ted Hughes, taking us to a sandwich shop called Impressions and saying as we stood behind the glass case waiting for our orders to be assembled, “Look at that dance they do.” The only poem I ever published was one for which he’d rearranged every single line break and gave its title, “Mosaic in Spain.” The poetic form and I never quite clicked, let’s just say. On the way to workshop once, I’d sat at a stoplight scribbling the start of a story on a Braum’s napkin. He made me read it out loud to the class, and then he leaned on elbows to tell me, “Isn’t that interesting. You are much more of a poet when you write prose!” Oddly enough, I’m much more of a musician and an artist and a dozen other things I’ve attempted in earnest when I write prose. So you could say I write to be much more. You could also say I write to redeem myself for the things I can’t do.
And every now and then I write for margarita money and free books.
Cynthia Hawkins teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is Associate Editor of Arts and Culture at The Nervous Breakdown, and Managing Fiction Editor of Prick of the Spindle. Her entertainment features and creative work have appeared in literary journals and magazines such as Monkeybicycle, ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, Our Stories, Passages North, InDigest Magazine, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies. More information can be found at http://cynthiahawkins.net.