Several years ago I attended an author event in New York City, where the authors on the panel were asked which they would choose if they could only read or only write (not both) for the rest of their lives. At the time I just thought to myself that it was a cruel, cruel (but fascinating!) choice to give a bookworm or writer, and that fortunately it's not a very realistic question, but the question has been on my mind lately in light of my recent struggles against my own thoughts and emotions.
Up until a few months ago, I would've probably told you that, if absolutely forced to choose one, I would rather be able to read--and not write--for the rest of my life. There are just too many books in the world that I want to get around to before I die, and the low panic that would set in whenever I thought about the books I haven't read yet if I died early made the choice a relatively easy one. BOOKS. NEED BOOKS. NEED BOOKS LIKE AIR. And so on.
But in the last month especially, I've been writing just about anything and everything I can think of. Endless, rambling journal entries in which I try to be my own therapist and think my way out of my mental black hole. Postcards, on which each word is chosen with care to best complement the image with such a limited amount of space. Revealing blog posts. Letters to old, almost-lost, newly-refound friends. Short stories that blossomed out of a split-second scene I caught outside the bus window. Longer stories with little plot but chatty characters, or too much plot that I haven't yet been able to untangle and smooth out. Even text messages, 160 characters used as a lifeline, reaching out to people who can entertain, distract, help, or enlighten me.
All of this writing has not just given me a permanently cramped right hand and inkstains that mysteriously appear on my clothes, scarves, and bags. In seeking the writing mode as often as possible, I have actually felt myself feeling better. I enter into writing with a hazy mind and annoyances dripping off me like salty beads of sweat, and on the other side of the writing I emerge clear, calm, and centered. It's not the only answer I have to seek, but when something can make me feel better, I'm going to hold onto it as hard as I can and care for it until the end of my time.
Writing is my therapist. Writing is my toughest coach. Writing is the annoying relative who won't leave you be to wallow by yourself. Writing is my best friend. So I guess that if you asked me again which one I'd choose, I'd now say that I need writing to survive.
What about you? If you were forced on pain of death (noooooooo!) to choose between being either a reader or writer (but not both) for the rest of your life, which would you choose?