These are my favorite parts of an essay I loved by Jhumpa Lahiri called “Trading Stories,” in The New Yorker:
I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?
It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.”
This was where I faltered. I preferred to listen rather than speak, to see instead of be seen. I was afraid of listening to myself, and of looking at my life.
I set out to do as he had done, and to pursue a career that would provide me with a similar stability and security. But at the last minute I stepped away, because I wanted to be a writer instead. Stepping away was what was essential, and what was also fraught. Even after I received the Pulitzer Prize, my father reminded me that writing stories was not something to count on, and that I must always be prepared to earn my living in some other way. I listen to him, and at the same time I have learned not to listen, to wander to the edge of the precipice and to leap. And so, though a writer’s job is to look and listen, in order to become a writer I had to be deaf and blind.
I, too, falter. I, too, dream of stepping away. I’d also like to be seen, if I could figure out what it was I wanted to show.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts flying around since the world I had prepared myself for disappeared in the early morning of November 9th. But I didn’t have it in me to continue with NaBloPoMo, a blog post for every day of November, so I didn’t.
Instead, I’ve read and learned a lot, written and collected many thoughts—on top of the stash I’d already accumulated in the busy weeks before the presidential election. I have a mountain of sentences about my personal story of the past decade, about how I want to live my life, about making a positive difference in this world.
A mountain, a sea, a vast terrain to dig through.
I’ll find my way to sharing soon, but until then, I wanted to say hello. It’s still hard to say, “Listen to me,” but I’m still here.