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Writing as Self-care

April 6, 2014

After writing my last blog post, I took a nap. I dreamed a bunch of annoying things were happening. But then, my mother showed me a card she gotten from someone she knew (whom I had spoken to once) — that person had enclosed a check for me to spend on a writing trip. The amount of $1011 seems strangely significant, partly because it’s weird that it’s not rounded off, but also because it’s a multiple of 3.

I haven’t spoken to my mother since 2007. No one I know from anywhere is going to mail me a check for $1000 for any reason whatsoever.


I’ve written one poem each, on two consecutive days. They’re both about issues I’ve written about here, but distilled down to the questions that burn through me.

Peter Matthiessen just died, so I’ve been reading tributes to his writing and his life. If you think like a public intellectual, about the sorts of issues that a person of letters thinks about, but you haven’t written any books, who are you?

I don’t want to write books in a usual way. I feel deeply conflicted about writing books at all — great way to get your ideas out into the human world, but what if the readers that would most deeply connect with your work still don’t find it? After all, millions of books are published every year.

I think some of my ideas would work better in fiction than nonfiction, except that (so far) I haven’t been able to write fiction.

I think that’s because… < deep breath > I don’t understand other human beings, and, on the whole, I don’t find them very interesting. My whole life revolves around my curiosity, and my openness to being surprised, and most people are broadly predictable in ways I don’t find inherently enjoyable. Most people are also xenophobes, while I’m a xenophile.

If I could be an earthworm for a day, or an Indiana bat, or a slime mold colony, or the Mississippi River, . . . maybe I’d hate it. But I don’t think I would, if only because . . . I’d have experiences I literally cannot imagine. For that reason alone, I wish I could do it.

Of course, afterwards, I’d have the same problem I have now: who could I talk to about any of it? Because nobody else cares about my numinous experiences.

At least writing about them, well, in theory, allows me to relive them. It definitely works with writing poetry about them, and whenever I reread one of those poems, I (at least dimly) recall those events. And how I felt.

What if you are Mary Oliver, before Mary Oliver was published? What if you can’t get your poems published? What if you can, but nobody likes them?


Because of my neurodiverse brain, because of my history, because of a million reasons (most of which I’m probably wrong about), I can only write really well about stuff I really care about. And stuff that I really care about . . . tends to have me in it.

On this blog, even though I write about my inner life probably 80% of the time, I’m actually trying to . . . parse out . . . (not the best term but I don’t know what else to call it) how I fit into the larger world, which is 99% nonhuman. (Or whatever the actual numbers are.)

I feel like I’m being called to be . . . a person of letters? but to nonhumans. Except, they don’t read books, or blogs; they don’t listen to podcasts. They don’t compile mailing lists.

They can’t nominate me for book awards.

They can’t follow me on Twitter.

Maybe they are just as disinterested in what I have to say/write as most humans are. I don’t know.

I don’t really care either. I write because I must. Writing reflects the world back to me, almost as if I had a friend (who wasn’t entirely me) but thought similarly, a friend who had similar values. A friend who wanted me to be my best self.


Partnering with my writing is helping me think through the implications of my actions on a much larger scale than was ever possible before I was writing.

Before I started writing, I’d already been curbing my water usage (20 years), had given up cosmetics (6 years), and have been trying to eat less (but in a healthy-ish way). But with writing — with a blog, where I can easily look up earlier thoughts — I can consider things from almost any angle I can think of.

I’ve thought about actually being an earthworm. I wrote a poem from an earthworm’s point of view (or is that point of touch?).

I overcame my terror at huge spiders when one moved into our garden two years ago. By the time she died three months later, I loved spiders of all sizes, not just teeny-tiny ones.

I think about my watershed all the time. Not just 02060003 [Gunpowder-Patapsco Rivers], but the streams of my neighborhood, as well as Chesapeake Bay, and all water bodies everywhere. Now, when I meet people from elsewhere, I mentally sort them by the largest water body near where they live.

Before I wrote, it never occurred to me to think about how I could tell you about every plant I’d had some kind of significant relationship with. And that that would turn out to be . . . hundreds of individuals. Far more than the number of human friends I’ve had.


When I spent most of my time around other human beings (even though there were usually plants around as well), I was pretty well attuned to the standards of human behavior I would be held to. I wasn’t happy, I played it safe a lot, I still screwed up all the time, but I thought the problem was me. That there was some magic formula for “fitting in” just enough that I could have human beings who cared about me, but not so much that I compromised my essential nature.

Now that I’m hanging out with plants way more than people, when there aren’t plants around, I feel jumpier and pricklier than usual. I find myself, unconsciously, being less friendly. In short, I feel like I’m in hostile territory.

People who don’t like plants (?!?) are people I don’t want to be anywhere near. Ditto with people who don’t like animals. Or who only like their own pets.


Someone I follow on Twitter was lamenting that “Americans don’t worry enough about global warming”. I responded that worrying was a waste of energy; we need more people doing something. She said none of her relatives are worried, and therefore they don’t feel anything needs doing. I’ve learned the hard way that talking to such people — my mother is one — is utterly pointless. They’ve got their heads in the sand about a thousand things, they’re not going to change anything 1 millisecond before they have to.

I can’t do anything about that. But what I can do, is behave differently myself. Writing has given me ways to teach myself (by doing) how to become a different kind of human being.

No one is going to “follow in my footsteps”, and I don’t wish they would. I just wish I could have a conversation about issues like this with people I actually knew, instead of just with books. Which circles back around to, maybe I should write my own book. Except that’s not the right answer.

There’s another answer out there, a better fit of an answer. I just have to keep looking, and trying things.

And writing, always writing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2014 11:50

    “People who don’t like plants (?!?) are people I don’t want to be anywhere near.” I feel you on this!

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