Why I Write Nonfiction

They walked me down the hall to the campground’s small infirmary: they have to tell me something—it sounds serious. I could smell the alcohol and peroxide as I sat on the sterilized examination table. Oh Mylanta, who’s dying? Wait… I’m the one sitting on the exam table… is it me?? “We want you to know, this in no way affects how we feel about you…” Oh lordy, I’m not dying, but I must have done something pretty bad—I wonder what it was… My dad saw the terrified look on my face, took a deep breath and let me have it: “Pam’s pregnant: you’re going to have a baby brother or sister.” Before he could finish “baby brother or sister,” I burst into tears; like a torrential downpour from a salty waterfall. Both my dad and stepmom began to try to sooth me but stopped short and stared at each other for a moment as I choked out, “I’m… so… happy!!” in between sobs. Confused, but relieved, they both threw their arms around me as I started rattling off baby names.

I cry about everything. Happy, sad, angry, surprised, it doesn’t matter what emotion I’m feeling, if it’s strong enough, I cry. The day my mom told me I could have a phone in my bedroom: I cried. I could have a TV in my bedroom: I cried. I just got home from the most amazing 6 weeks of freedom a 16-year old girl can imagine: I cried. Got the part I wanted in the school play: cried. Didn’t get the part I wanted in the community play: cried. Emotion overpowers me and the only way I can sort out my feelings is by writing them down, digging into the deep recesses of my brain to understand why I feel the way I do.

Tears help me recognize the presence and strength of my emotions, but they don’t always tell me why they are there. I can tap my temple and think, think, think, but until I work it out in writing, I don’t fully understand what I’m feeling or why. Why was I so happy to hear I was going to have a younger sibling? Was it pure relief that I wasn’t in trouble? Or was it that after 13 years of being picked on by an older brother the idea of having a little brother or sister to pick on was empowering? My older brother was also coming and going, in and out of my life and I was definitely excited to have another sibling to share childhood with. Why did I cry when I was given a phone and TV? Was it simple id satisfaction or pride because my parents were telling me I was growing up and they trusted me to follow the rules unsupervised? Or because I would no longer feel alone at night and wouldn’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore? Why do I cry when my husband plays video games all day? Because I can’t enjoy it with him and that’s how my mother pushed my father away before the divorce (not with video games, mind you, she used the television show M.A.S.H.), and I fear he’s doing the same thing to me. By confronting these questions in writing, I not only discover the answers, but force myself to face reality and accept the truth about the situation and myself. I write to express myself because there is so much I can’t say out loud. I have to put my thoughts in writing in order to make sense of the situation and clearly present my point of view to my intended audience, even if that audience is only me.  Through writing about my experiences and sharing them with others, I am better able to understand my reactions, and hope my own revelations might help someone else understand something more about themselves.

So, why do I write creative nonfiction? Why do I do anything? Because I am passionate. Passionate about truth, human experience, expression, and knowledge. I write when I’m emotional: sad, angry, joyful, confused—any emotion works, but I have to feel something. I like to share and learn, communicate and inform. I write to understand my own thoughts and feelings. I’ve been through hell and came out the other side, but I’m still not sure what I’ve learned from these experiences. By writing about them I hope to find answers, insight, and maybe even some closure.

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