Why I Write: Matt Tompkins

I am, above all, an inquisitive person. As a precocious kid, I was constantly asking questions. But I learned pretty early that if I asked too many questions in my public school, I’d be ridiculed. And at home, the son of a depressive, closeted alcoholic, I learned to read the room, and ultimately, to keep most things to myself. As a result, I asked my questions of books. And books never mocked, never judged, never shrugged, never slurred, always answered.

Of course, in addition to being a platform for my questions, reading was an escape–a way to step quietly, temporarily out of my life. It was a means to venture outside of my stiff, claustrophobic suburb, outside of my nervous body and neurotic, obsessive mind. For as long as my thoughts were fully trained on the contents of a book, they were reined in, restrained, and couldn’t churn endlessly over what a neighbor kid might hurl my way, whether my lunch would be stolen again, or what kind of mood I’d find my parents in when I opened my bedroom door.

Just as reading was an escape, I’ve found that writing is my return.

Rather than seeking someone else’s answers, rather than looking for a vehicle to take me away, as I relied on reading to do, writing is instead a way to process, reflect, and integrate my own experience. It is a means to engage: to ask of myself, and answer for myself, the whys and what-ifs and hows that still rattle in my head. But then, to say that I answer my own questions wouldn’t be quite right. By spinning them out, I arrive, never at answers exactly, but at these literary manifestations that, without settling anything, illuminate and broaden the scope of the questions themselves. In writing fiction, I live with my uncertainties and my anxieties. They become my close friends, and together, we talk.

I believe in this process. I’m dedicated to sharing it–and  the fruits of the inquiry–with others. With this process in mind, at heart, in hand, I am, I hope, better equipped to live life, both inwardly and outwardly. Working from this motivation, and with this recognition, both reading and writing are now, for me, a kind of revolving door between retreat and connection–between listening and speaking–between silence and expression–between asking and answering–and I feel most at home in this flux: only ever truly in balance while spinning on this axis, moving between the two.

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About Matt Tompkins

Matt Tompkins is the author of two books: Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press) and Studies in Hybrid Morphology (tNY Press). Matt’s stories have appeared in the New Haven Review, Post Road, and online at the Carolina Quarterly. He works in a library and lives in upstate New York with his wife (who kindly reads his first drafts), his daughter (who prefers picture books) and his cat (who is illiterate).