Why I Write: Erin Armstrong

I write because I find the world to be a crazy place and writing is one of the few acts that makes sense to me. I write to find out who I am while trying to explain the nonsensical world to myself. I write because at my heart I’m a narcissist who believes that describing her experiences or conveying them in story could help someone else see and understand themselves. I write to remember, to trap my fickle memories into a state of permanence. I write to battle my brain, my life experiences, in the hopes that all the moments I’ve forgotten will remain in my writing, preserved for my later self. I write to uncover whether or not the truths purported by society are valid or in need of dismantling, and if I find that it’s the latter, I use writing as my tool for breaking down and analyzing those systems which I believe unjust.

My compulsion to write stems from my family history, a prerequisite for being a member of the Armstrong clan. My family has a strong oral tradition that’s been passed on from one generation to the next. My grandfather loved to talk about his mid-western experiences where he lit prairies on fire, escaped starvation by enlisting in the army, and played Mumblety-Peg with rusty pocket knives. This tradition of hyperbole and embellishment was passed down to my father who too has regaled my sister and me with countless hours of his own stories—helping his roommate to starve himself in order to dodge the Vietnam Draft, conducting his first Chemistry experiments in secret in his next door neighbor’s basement, and accidentally ending up in Mexico with his kid brother. In my generation, my sister is the one who continues to have the oral skills and will pass these on to her children. She’s the best kind of dramatic—expressive, funny, and impressionable; she’s a terrific actor. I, on the other hand, hate being anyone but me in front of people, so while I love story, and love hearing and writing about my family, I prefer to do it on paper and in the solace of my own home. I too want an audience, someone for whom to share my stories, but I don’t want to know that they are there; I don’t want to hear them laughing or crying in the background. I would prefer to think of them as a phantom, a ghost I will never meet, but who I hope will enjoy what I have to say.

While my family stories instilled a curiosity in me, writing was also born out of my love for reading. For me, there was a natural evolution from being obsessed with the stories told by others to writing my own. I will never understand those people who say that they love to write but hate reading. I know that they’re out there and that they’ve found a way to navigate these preferences; however, reading seems like a requisite for understanding how to write well. Essentially, I majored in reading every chance I could get, and still read voraciously, because it’s how I study writing. Reading is how I find my mentors in writing and how I continue to push boundaries in my own work. Not only do I find reading a wonderfully indulgent form of escape, but it’s also where I stumble upon the essential questions I must ask of myself in order to live my life with more compassion and thoughtfulness. Over the years, it’s rare that I encounter texts where I don’t write something down, dog-ear a page, or stop to highlight a moment in the literature. This interaction with text is how I seek out inspiration and from where my desire to write stemmed. For me, writing has become as compulsory as reading, but it would never have started out this way if someone hadn’t put a book in my hands.

I love the act of writing because it’s a quiet production of a very messy and complicated endeavor. Writing at its core is an organization of my disjointed intellectual thoughts and when I do the act of writing well, I can communicate narrative in a logical fashion despite my musings being a web of confusion. So I write to make sense of my point of view and place in this world. I write to trap and preserve time by writing both about what I know and what I wish to know. I write because it’s an act of creation that makes manifest a seemingly impossible connection with the stranger, who I’ve experienced and enjoyed being, yet I know I’ll never meet—the reader.

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About Erin Armstrong

Erin Armstrong received her MFA from The University of Arizona in 2011. Her work has appeared in The Blue Guitar, FoundPolariods, Marco Polo Magazine, and is forthcoming in InkinThirds, Harmony Magazine, and The Museum of Americana: a Literary Review. Additionally, she writes a weekly poetry series for Channillo. She lives in Seattle, Washington.