Why I Write: Allie Blum

My Motivations for Writing: A Letter to My Writing Workshop

On Monday night I had trouble falling asleep. I attribute that to a combination of drinking coffee too late in the day and thinking about this guy who hadn’t responded to my text inquiring if he wanted to hang out this week. While writhing in bed, my neurons swirled so rapidly that I had to type out all of my thoughts just to quell their physical manifestations. Some hours later my stream of consciousness took the form of an essay on self-love. Since then, this newfound burst of creative energy has turned me into an insomniac.

One of the first people I sent my essay to is a dear friend of mine named Ella. Ella and I, we’ve been told, “have the same aura.” She is my go-to when it comes to all creative pursuits. She’s a walking, talking encyclopedia on film and will soon be directing her first short film taking place in a gender-neutral bathroom at a punk rock concert. We’re going to start a bass-slapping, track-bumping girl duo in our lifetime called The Curls, inspired by our most defining shared physical trait. We have a collaborative playlist on Spotify together called “Here Come the Curls,” and to be frank, it’s banging.

The premise of the essay, Ella thought, was strikingly similar to that of a 2015 indie coming of age film called The Diary of a Teenage Girl. “Watch it tonight,” she instructed, “and pay attention to the last spoken paragraph. That’s all I’m going to say. Call me when it’s over.”

Following suit, I watched the movie on Tuesday night, and was so touched by the story that I felt compelled to write an essay on its theme as it relates to my life right once it ended.

Now it feels as though I’m on a binge-writing rampage. My brain feels like it’s been abducted, but I re-read the essays I’ve written and the voice is recognizably mine so it’s not that foreign. What is foreign is the rate at which these ideas are forming in my head, like popcorn kernels in a microwave. My desktop is filling up with Word documents, titled but without content just so I can keep a record of the material as I go. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by my thoughts in my life. I don’t mean that negatively.

I remember the first time I felt a physical and spiritual sensation reminiscent of this one, which was the first time I thought I wanted to be a writer: it was in Mrs. Elkes’ 4th grade class at Colonial Elementary School in Plymouth Meeting, PA. Mrs. Elkes was a nice teacher. She mastered the delicate balance of being sternly soft-spoken, important for effectively commanding a room of 20-something 8 and 9-year-olds. She stood no taller than 5’3, had short, thick brown hair, and often wore white button-down dress shirts. Mrs. Elkes was impressed by the sensory detail I ascribed to the rustling of metal chains on a playground swing set, which I wrote for an assignment on the topic of recess, and asked me to read my musings aloud one day in class. That made me feel special. I wondered if I would always feel that special if I kept writing and sharing my writing with others.

So I did.

I was selected to speak at my elementary school “move up ceremony,” and fulfilled my 11-year-old promise to myself of delivering my high school commencement address. I wrote moving eulogies at my deceased family members’ funerals and poetically poured my heart out to my high school boyfriend for every month we had been together, spanning nearly 24 months. I crafted such persuasive emails that I convinced a stranger to open a frozen yogurt shop in my town. I was the Editor in Chief of the school newspaper and had amassed a loyal following of readers for a blog I created out of sheer boredom as a second semester senior with raging Senioritis. I was so sure that I was going to be a writer, and so were my friends, classmates, and family members. What else was there for me to do?

Then I went to Tulane University. I took a Communications course my first semester in lieu of any journalistic offerings and was perplexed that my parents were paying thousands of dollars for me to learn about social media. I wasn’t feeling inspired.

My sophomore year is when I declared a dual major in sociology and social policy and practice. It turns out that majors don’t mean much, but you’re made to believe that you’re deciding your fate (at age 19, ha) by “declaring” the thing. Liberal arts? You must want to be poor, was typically the reaction to my declaration, and the occasional oh, that’s really interesting... what does that mean?

I got wrapped up in the idea of being a social worker during my studies at Tulane. I mentioned this to two doctors I saw when home in suburban Philadelphia. The first, a dermatological surgeon who removed a near-cancerous mole from my left shin, was not encouraging. Everything he said, he said as a half-joke, but you knew his sarcastic undertones were serious. I like my job because people come to me when they have a problem, and after they see me they don’t have that problem anymore. Social workers… you know… they don’t really solve any problems. This was coming from a man who greeted me by telling me that I “didn’t have cancer, but it was super close!” so I didn’t take him seriously from the onset.

The physician I saw shortly thereafter was more deliberate in her approach. That’s a very emotionally taxing job, and you don’t make much money doing it. Are you sure that’s what you want? Of course these were things I had already thought about before, and thought about often, but her phrasing and tone forced me to question my goals and aspirations, ultimately deterring me from pursuing what felt like my dream job at the time.

After graduating from Tulane in May of 2017, I wound up at a start-up on Poydras Street that helps people form nonprofits, running the Customer Success department as a one woman show. I am probably the youngest and most under-dressed person with a full-time job inside the First Bank and Trust building. I tried to be open-minded about working there and resented myself for making assumptions about the kinds of people who work in the building; who was I to stigmatize Corporate America to bolster my own image of myself?

Now, however, as I’m realizing my childhood dreams in a full circle kind of fashion, my presence there is starting to feel disingenuous.

On Wednesday, amidst this writing frenzy, I took a break from doing work-related things at work to search for writing-related events in New Orleans on Facebook. I didn’t know what I was looking for when I typed “writing” into the search bar. Then I stumbled upon a creative nonfiction writing workshop taking place at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts starting on Wednesday, February 28th. The date of this Wednesday was February 28th, so I didn’t have much time to think about whether I was going to commit to the workshop or not. I saw the $325 workshop fee, consulted my bank account, and decided that this was an investment in my future rather than an expense. So here I am.

When our facilitator C.W. asked the workshop participants why we liked writing at our first meeting, the straightforward nature of the question prompted an abrupt realization that this was not something I have given enough thought to in my life, which is baffling considering that I find writing so essential to my being. My initial response was to say that it’s cathartic for me, which it is. But when I took the time to reflect on this question after the session, I found that catharsis is the lesser of my motivations for writing.

Although this is not something I care to verbalize, in the interest of transparency and authenticity, I write because I’m afraid of death. More specifically, I’m afraid of an untimely death. Dying in some freakishly tragic and horrific way before I get to travel to all the places I want to travel to and see all the Phish shows I want to see and make a documentary and write a book and have some profound great forever love and have children of my own, mostly because I know my parents are going to be rock star grandparents, and because I want my kids to be best friends with my sisters’ kids. If I did die prematurely, I think it would mess a lot of people up, and I feel sick at the thought of my loved ones suffering through the grief and confusion. This fear is not debilitating by any means, but it is one that lurks in the darkest depths of my mind and usually doesn’t go away.

I’m scared to even write this because I don’t want to manifest it, but if it did happen, what would I leave them with? My writings, of course. I’ve eulogized all of my loved ones who have passed away thus far, so why wouldn’t I eulogize myself? It sounds so dark it makes me cringe, but I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not admit to the fact that this is a real motivation for why I write.

Another motivation for why I write is to communicate to my loved ones just how much I love them. The way my brain has been feeling this past week, overflowing with thoughts to the point that I’m word-vomiting all over the place, is pretty much how I always feel in my heart. My capacity to love is tremendous, and I feel like I have yet to maximize my potential in that regard, which is mind-boggling (and another reason why I’m afraid to die before it should be my time). I love and care for others so deeply, and I’m not shy about telling people how much I love them and what I specifically love about them. I want to make people to feel special, like how Mrs. Elkes made me feel special in 4th grade, and I know I’m capable of achieving that through the way in which I string words together.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to not only tell someone I love them, but to tell them in a way that is eloquent, artistic, in a way they themselves could not do. It is the most meaningful gift I’m capable of giving, outside of my capacity to love others in and of itself. If it turns out that I’m a shitty writer and that this whole thing is a hoax (this is a huge fear of mine), I can take solace in knowing that I’m really good at loving other humans, which has led me to create extraordinary relationships with people of diverse backgrounds that I am eternally grateful for.

         Lastly, I write because I want to be great at something, not the best, but really great. I never felt like I was good at anything when it came to hard skills aside from writing. Writing was my first memorable experiment in self-discovery, and that’s why I feel like I have to keep doing it all the time. So that’s it: I want to have something worthy to offer to the universe in return for my existence, however small it may be in the grand scheme, and I never want to stop learning about myself for as long as I’m alive.

The audience that I write to has never been one of complete strangers, which is essentially what all of you are to me currently. What excites me more than anything about this workshop is that it provides a platform for me to introduce myself to you through my writing. I’ve never felt more vulnerable than I do right now. To ruminate on my motivations for writing is truly an exercise in ruminating on who I am and what my motivations are for doing anything in life. I know there will be people out there who don’t care for what I have to say for varying reasons, and that’s okay because that’s how it is. I’m open to criticism that is both constructive and compassionate, and from our limited interactions I gather that this group can offer me just that.

As I look forward to illuminating who I am for all of you (and myself) through participating in this workshop, I too look forward to meeting all of you through your writing, however much of yourself you choose to share. I’m feeling optimistic about what’s to come as we continue to develop as writers and human beings together.

 

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About Allie Blum

Allie Blum is a Philadelphia-born, New Orleans-based writer at Tulane University, from where she received a BA in 2017. Allie was a shortlisted finalist in the essay category of the 2018 William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Her work has appeared in Chaleur Magazine, Not Your Mother's Breast Milk, and the Same.