Why I Write, with Apologies to George Orwell

Capital in Wilmington rs
Turning a corner in Wilmington, NC.

About a week ago, Ambra Sancin at The Good, the Bad and the Italian wrote about writing, as part of what is called a Blog Hop. She invited me to do the same, so I have, but my format is slightly different, inspired as I have been by George Orwell’s essay,”Why I Write.” At the end of this post, you’ll find a few blogs that I think are worth your time; maybe the listees will write something about why THEY write.

Why do I write? Why indeed? Like a lot of writers, I’d like to think it’s because readers find what I have to say interesting. George Orwell suggests four fairly standard reasons for why writers write:

1. Sheer egoism

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm

3. Historical impulse

4. Political purpose

But George Orwell knew there’s more to the story and he was brave enough to say it, or some of it at least

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a window pane.

Finding that happy ground between the ego and the universal drives me to write what I write. I find the world to be such a wondrous place, my curiosity takes me in all sorts of different directions, not just food, though I would hope that in writing about food, I am following in the footsteps of one of the best writers I have ever read, M. F. K. Fisher. A statement she made – widely quoted and one she got tired of hearing – sums up why she wrote:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one. (The Art of Eating)

However, I could spend all my time reading what other people say about the world and what’s in it and never write a word about it myself, joining the passivity parade of today’s technological culture. But if I don’t write, I feel a weakness of spirit, a sense of Ennui spreading its wings and enveloping me in a vampiric kiss. I lose my juice, so to speak. On the days when I sit at the keyboard and finish what I start, well, that’s a day filled with light, even if clouds strangle the sun and rain bleeds all over everything.

I, like you, am one individual, and there will never be another person like me, or like you. Each of us experiences the world in our unique way, sees it through the window pane described by Orwell. Without writing, all those thoughts will simply disappear when death comes. To not write means that whatever your experience, however profound your thoughts, you might as well be living in a state of illiteracy. “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground” goes an African saying, in regard to the vital importance of oral history in non-literate cultures.

When I write, I release my thoughts to the world, a scary, even daring thing, because there will be criticisms and rebukes, as well as a few kudos here and there. Think of Rembrandt’s painting, “Carcass of Beef.” That’s the feeling I have when I let go of my words and send them out into the world. Exposed and laid open.

Writing never is easy, never simple, and never finished. To write is to know the pain of always failing, because the words on paper never reflect the soul’s vision.

But striving for the infinite makes it all worthwhile, trying to see through the window pane.

That’s why I write.

Other blogs and bloggers you might enjoy reading:

Gary Allen’s On the Table: The Curious Home of Gary Allen

Mariana Kavroulaki’s History of Greek Food

Rachel Lauden’s blog: A Historian’s Take on Food and Food Politics

Merril Smith’s blog: Yesterday & Today: Merril’s Historical Musings

© 2014 C. Bertelsen

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you, Liz. And thanks for commenting, it means a lot.

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  2. Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things says:

    A beautiful post.

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  3. Thanks, Leo, for the reading and all the writing. You indeed have lived stories that MUST BE told. So … .

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  4. Mike, yes, Wilmington is wonderful, liked it a lot. All the water, and then all the historic houses. Whew, fantastic combo.

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  5. Thank you, Ambra, for inviting me! Let’s keep on writing, OK?

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  6. Mike says:

    That’s a powerful post. Thank you. I probably would have skimmed it if you hadn’t led with the photo of my beloved hometown. Hope you enjoyed Wilmington.

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  7. Leo Racicot says:

    An abundance of thanks, Cindy, for sharing all these interesting blogs. I usually read very few but yours is a must, the Best of the best. It is, indeed, for me, egoism, to think the stories my mind, my heart my memory have collected over the years just HAVE TO BE WRITTEN DOWN FOR POSTERITY. I do like very much the African saying, “When an old man dies, a whole library burns down” and sometimes I feel I MUST find a way to tell all that I have seen, felt, heard, experienced, known. It is a Herculean task and yes, “Time, she fly!” but wouldn’t it be awe-filled and wondrous if every living creation on the Earth could write or dance or sculpt or sing its own history!

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  8. ambradambra says:

    Lovely Cynthia. Thanks so much for participating in the Blog Hop – and for starting my day with a kind of holy trinity: a Rembrandt painting, a quote from M.F.K. Fisher and the phrase “lose my juice”.

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