When I look at the garbled, nonsense morass of my inner life, I see a puzzle that I’ll never solve. I can’t even begin to make sense of my thoughts—to make them accessible to myself, let alone others—and I imagine that my efforts to do so will continue without result until they taper off unceremoniously at the onset of senility.
Most of my thoughts arise without any input from me. They surge up from the depths of my perpetual distraction. They bring overpowering emotions and vague certainties whose source and object are usually impossible to articulate. These last just long enough to take my mind off of whatever it is I’m doing, to cause a host of unpleasant physical sensations, and then disappear before I can make sense of them.
They almost never contain words or ideas—only inclinations and aversions which occasionally manifest as angry internal monologues or daydreams of meaningful conversations that haven’t actually happened. And these contain mostly the sense of monologuing or of having a conversation rather than any actual dialogue.
I detect patterns in these in these nameless feelings which end up amounting to a set of values, with the inclinations becoming my sense of ‘right’ and the aversions my sense of ‘wrong.’ This allows me to orient myself in the world and to answer straightforward questions involving what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad,’ but it doesn’t amount to anything so concrete as a worldview or set of morals. It just determines how I feel about what’s happening moment to moment, in the moment.
I’m never really able to explain concisely what it is that makes me inclined or averse to something—to like or dislike it. My opinions and feelings come on strong without any immediate justification, and render me a preoccupied mess of aimless certainties before departing again and leaving me in a daze.
It’s tiring and confusing. It leaves me without a sense of self or of direction. It feels as though I’m just a feed of jumbled information with arbitrary start and end points. I began broadcasting sometime in the past and will cease broadcasting sometime in the future, and very little of meaning will be expressed in the intervening time.
That’s no way to live.
But it is how I live, and probably how most people live.
The messiness and confusion and vagueness of it all are facts of life, even if distressing when examined up close. It’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing to do about it except to occasionally interrupt the thrum of mental noise and find little moments of clarity. I’m convinced that’s the best that I can hope for at least. There’s no escaping my baseline.
And that’s where writing comes in.
Writing is the microscope that lets me examine my inner life. It lets me slow things down and turn upwellings of dread or euphoria or whatever else into something concrete before they subside and disappear.
It lets me reach into the tangle of my thoughts and extract fragments for closer examination. It gives me something I can come back to—evidence of past convictions that I use to reassure myself that I’ve been here all along and that my thoughts have some consistency.
If I’m seized by some nameless feeling or other and I can get to a notebook or computer quickly enough, I can spit out a stream of consciousness that usually ends in a fairly concise expression of whatever it is I’m feeling, and why.
It doesn’t start that way, of course. I have countless notepads lying around on countertops, stuffed into jacket pockets, crushed at the bottom of my backpack, all filled with rambling and desperate attempts to express myself.
But whether it takes one attempt or two or ten, I’m almost always able to come up with a concise version of whatever monolithic and impenetrable emotion it is that’s seized me.
My inner life is aimless and confusing, and thwarts all attempts to track its movements in real time. By writing my way through big feelings, I can create snapshots of those feelings that are finite and not obscured by the rest of my thoughts. I’m left with something that can be inspected, pondered, and put away for later.
Basically, writing makes life make sense. It gives me a little respite from thinking and feeling, and lets me look at my thoughts with detachment.
Without writing, there is no me. There’s just a slideshow that nobody’s watching, and whose images are out of focus.