Photo by mpclemens/Flickr Creative Commons.

Skip the hook. The intro. The topic sentence. Skip the subject. The thesis. Skip all supporting evidence. Enter only, conflict: I don’t want to be a writer anymore.

In July, when I first felt this, I could almost literally feel the wall going up. Less a metaphor for writer’s block; more a metaphor of writer’s won’t. I won’t write, I thought, I wiggity willingingly won’t. The why of which, unclear—all the bubbles marked dark and heavy, then moving through the scantron without yet a final result.

But I did have my suspicions:

  1. I don’t want to write anymore because writing is hard.
  2. I don’t want to write anymore because I had become too obsessed, then disillusioned, by what I thought was the perfection of language
    • Item A: I believed there was such a thing as a perfect word, a perfect poem, a perfect essay
    • Item B: And by being a writer, then perhaps, I could, through study, dedication & intensity, reliably experience perfection—the ritual of which would someday render me made perfect too.
    • Item C: But! if Item A were false, then what was I, through writing, even striving towards?
  3. Writers, and primarily the genre of poetry re: poets—the name I called myself—exhaust me. (if that was a poem, I’d write: “the name I call myself exhausts me” on its own line)
    • Item A: In our/their striving to “make it new,” we/they often “make it confusing”
    • Item B: How can I believe poetry is for everyone, but sustain a relationship to a genre that in practice, again and again, pushes so many readers away because of its rowback play with language?
  4. All I really wanted out of writing a word was meaning; to make sense but
    • Item A- question: Finding that I couldn’t reliably have either, I started to wonder, is it too much to ask the beloved discipline of semantics to give the poem what it beckons of others’? Meaning!!!
    • Item A’s answer re: It was too much to ask of the poem.
    • Item C: If so true, then my preoccupation with sound as a supplement for sense—my willingness to be in the experience of poetry as music—waned alongside my disillusionment with perfection.
      • And if I couldn’t reliably experience perfection, then why the heck I was spending my life writing?!
        • Please excuse my understanding of perfection’s limit to the Biblical sense: complete obedience to god. Because, as a very religious young Christian kid, I took total obedience to god and John 1:1—that verse where John’s like “the word was god”—very literally (eek!).

That was July 5th. The next day, July 6th, I got called in to write haikus at a closing celebration of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building.

At the exhibit, I sat next to a colleague, a co-haikuist—a young man who wore a blue buttoned down shirt the same color of the home button on Google docs*. He set up his same color blue typewriter next to me and settled in. It was my first time at the job, so I copied him, opening my typewriter with feigned confidence. I looked down into the case worried—purchased that morning from a random lady off Facebook Marketplace, I had no idea if my ribbon was wet enough to ink. A crowd began to gather around our table. The chairs directly opposite either side of both of us waiting to be filled. A brass band began playing in the main gallery space only 15 feet behind us. I looked to him for another nod of confidence, as he invited patrons, one by one, to take a seat so we could write for them.

A haiku I wrote for an older sister whose little sister was visiting her:

Sisterhood as sweet
as candy. Or a cavity
The ache also you.

A haiku I wrote for a woman who was going into her second major surgery the next day:

I’ve been here before.
The fox goes under the wire
comes out stronger; wiser.

A haiku I wrote for a little girl who told me exactly the first two lines she wanted:

the future is cool
and the past is behind us
Ketchup mustards!

A haiku I wrote for a girl waiting to hear about law school:

Two scales weighing my
Admission. My future mine
To judge. I’m the shit!

A haiku that Jalynn Harris wrote for a woman about to undergo major surgery for the second time. Photo by Jalynn Harris.

At half past 7, I picked up my things, said goodbye to my blue shirt colleague, and carried, in backless inch-high clogs, my 15-pound typewriter, the ¾ of a mile back to my car.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was elated. The why of which through the scantron—the result: writing feels damn good.

I smiled and squealed the whole drive home. Because I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Those low stakes words with strangers. Words at the discounted rate of happening now and hot off the typewriter press. I enjoyed how easy it was and decided I might want to continue to write, but I will do so only if it’s easy; a new treatise beginning.

Since I could hold a pen, I’ve been finding a home on the page. My younger years, beholden to the library–homeschooled by a librarian, my mother—taught me that if you document it, it can be read; if it can be read, it can be understood; if it can be understood, it can be real. Language’s power to transform abstract ideas into concrete conflicts – and then lessons with meanings – was, to me, perfection. And if I could perform this perfection, then I could be made perfect.

(Clearly, non-sequiturs, circular reasoning, and red herrings abound in all my reasons to write.)

Perfection, I am learning, is the least real thing. The characters are more real than perfection. The alliteration more real than perfection. Perfection, dangerous. Illusion. Like the person who feels their own arms and thinks wow, that feels good. I like that. Mhmmm yeah very strong. I know who I am; I’m an arm. The perfectionist like the writer who writes the story and thinks, yeah it feels good. I like that. Very strong. I know who I am; I am a writer.

Writing was and continues to be a spiritual practice. A ritual of safely making a home for the characters, alliterations, and stories I need to write. But perfection, perfection doesn’t exist. It cannot be practiced. Can only be believed. Can only be disproved. Because I am the arm turning towards my an entire body so that I can feel good about my whole self.

*I write everything in docs. I trusted him.

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Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...