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Published: Mon Sep 14 2015
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Destrución de los Huricanes en Guatemala / Hurricane Destruction in Guatemala (detail), 2010, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Why I Write

I write to live my life in the open. I write to hide in plain sight.

I write because I want to understand what I think. I write because I don’t know what to say.

I write to talk to myself.

I write to describe, to define, to tell. To tell on. To tattle to the world.

I write to impress women. And men.

I write because childhood is the country we all come from and to which we can never return.

I write to tell the story of the time I went up and up into the clouds of Cerro de la Muerte, riding my mountain bike for hours and hours again, all uphill, and the trees were drizzled with fog and moss and bromeliads, and my mind broke and I wept.

I write because desire.

I write to tell the truth. I write because I like to lie.

I write to talk about the feel of the rain on my face in the wind fresh off the Atlantic, the rough and marled coastline of Maine, gulls.

I write because it is my job.

I write because I am not smart enough to do anything else.

I write because history. The Prague Spring, the first King of Ireland, or the time the Rolling Stones visited Tangiers and wandered the Kasbah with kif and hash and the silver necklaces they wore and strolled to the Café HaHa while the band was falling apart and Brian Jones was running towards his death.

I write because science and math.

I write because I cannot not.

I write because hummingbirds, and their bright colors spangled in the sunlight beneath the heliconia, and their incomprehensible hearts. I write because quetzals, with their emerald tail feathers and bright crimson breasts. Because ospreys.

I write because it is what I love. I write because I hate it and want to be done so I can walk down to the bar and drink a beer and just watch the damn ballgame.

I write because I read.

I write to stop reading.

I write to describe the flight of pelicans above the International Waterway and the old gray pilings and the light and the water thin and blue in the flats where the tarpon shoal.

I write because of my wife’s breasts. And the breasts of other women. And the arms of men, muscled and tight, and their hips. Maybe I’ve said that already.

I write to describe the way the light lies down on the grass at dusk when I am sitting on my porch—it lies down like a blanket of gold, by the way—and the way my wine tastes and the air.

I write because I love the sound of words and the sense of sentences. I write because neither of these things are enough, because the words get it wrong and sentences are loose nets with which I try to haul up the sea.

I write to talk about the time I took a boat out onto the Gulf of Genoa and returned late at night to Riomaggiore and the lights were rising up into the dove-colored hills and the houses were quiet and the bakers were at work and I bought hot loaves of bread and tore them open in the dark.

I write to remember. I write so I don’t forget. But I forget why, sometimes.

I write to tell the story of the time my heart came close to stopping and I had to kneel down in the middle of the street in Quepos on the tarmac hot and sticky and the sky was steaming blue and the bougainvillea flowed in purple waves over the walls of the houses and the dark crept in around my eyes. I write to get past that moment.

I write because I survived.

I write to talk about Achilles, and Plato, and John Keats. I write to have a conversation with Elizabeth Bishop. And Norman Maclean. And Larry Levis. And Adrian Blevins. And Terrance Hayes.

Oh, and God.

I write because I don’t think God exists. I write to replace Her.

I write because the fallen angels fell in love with the daughters of men and taught them the secret of writing and the use of pen and paper, thereby many sinned from eternity to this day, because mankind was not created for such a purpose.

I write so I can talk to my friends—who are also writers—about what I have written and when.

I write to avoid reading my email. I read my email to avoid writing.

I write to talk about the murals in Belfast, Northern Ireland, how in one the barrel of the machine gun of the man in the balaclava follows me like an eye as I cross the Shankill Field—that orchard of ruin with a no-man’s-land inside it.

I write because Paris.

I write because people ask me to, sometimes.

I write whether I am asked to or not.

I write because there is a nameless beach in Corcovado where the water purls in perfect clarity on the olive sand and where sea turtles haul themselves out of the ocean to bury their eggs in pits they dig with their winged, inarticulate hands.

I write because those eggs glow like dirty pearls in the dark.

I write because my son will one day grow up and leave home and I will need to remember how he looked today, with the shock of his blond hair and his ferocity and his sadness.

I write because there is so much to tell him. So much.

I write because Orpheus sang to the trees and they bent their branches down to him.

I write because Eurydice returned to the dark.

I write because my written life is the only life I truly own.

Jeffrey Thomson is the author of the memoir fragile and five books of poems, including his most recent, The Belfast Notebooks. His collection Birdwatching in Wartime won the ASLE award for creative writing and the Maine Book Award in poetry. Half/Life: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Alice James Books. In 2012 Thomson was the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast. He teaches creative writing at University of Maine at Farmington. (updated 9/2017)

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