Terry McMillan: Why I Write

BlogHer Original Post

When I was a little girl, I used to sit upstairs and look out my bedroom window for so long that the field was transformed into a giant playground. It was filled with modern and brand-new monkey bars, tall swings, sliding boards, see-saws -– you name it. My street wasn’t hard-packed dirt, it was smooth black asphalt, like it was in white neighborhoods. The trash and dead-branch-filled ditch in front of our house became a clean swooshing stream. We had a front porch, where the floorboards were painted a shiny bright blue, the railing was in tact and a beautiful wooden swing swung back and forth next to a wicker table that housed a frothy pitcher of iced tea. This, instead of walking out the front door and breaking your neck when you dropped three feet into a puddle of sand, and where the overhang was held up by two-by-fours.

My bedroom had starched eyelet curtains, a box spring and thick firm mattress, velvety carpet and enough heat or cool air coming out of the vents to make the hair on the nape of my neck tickle. I had a dresser with drawers that actually pulled out in one tug, and little bottles of perfume sitting on lace doilies. Instead, during winter, there was ice on the inside of the window, piles of thin blankets on a mattress with broken springs that dipped in the middle so my sister and I would spend more energy than we needed to trying not to bump butts; summer, we burned up at night and had to stick our heads out the window to breathe. The floor gave us splinters, and when it was dark, we knew how to avoid the holes. We used buckets to catch the rain that dripped right through the pink insulation.

“Are you deaf, girl?” my mother would say, finally coming up the tight stairwell to see if I was doing something I had no business doing because that had to be the only reason I was pretending not to hear her. But I didn’t hear her. I was busy, recreating my world just the way I wanted it.

I still do this.

terry mcmillan

Image Credit: © Martin Klimek/ZUMApress.com

Except now I understand why. Over the years, I learned that there are some things in the world that are perfect, beautiful, and in total harmony: mountains, forests, rivers, etc. Over the years, I’ve experienced and witnessed happiness, a sense of worth and well-being, being in love, the notion of being guided in the right direction. On the other hand, I’ve experiences and observed uncertainty, frustration, pain in a variety of forms, misery, unhappiness, depression, lovelessness, loneliness, a feeling of being lost, of floating out there in the ozone, faithlessness, and anger. Well, hell, I needed an outlet for all these feelings and I found it in my fingers.

What I found was that I was not alone, that even when I could “fix” things in my own life, there were still so many wrongs I saw happening to others that I took it personally. So I have continuously asked myself that if I could alter reality to make it better, how would I do it? First, I have to know what’s wrong, then I have to understand why and then how to go about fixing it. It sounds easier than it is because many other things come into play, like dealing with human beings totally unlike myself. Which means I have had to develop this thing called compassion, that I’ve had to learn to dismiss (in some cases) my own notion of right and wrong, and literally put myself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes I resist, because it’s easier to resist than it is to surrender. When you surrender it’s scary because you feel out of control. I like being in control.

However, if I were able to stop questioning why we as people are not happy and content, why it is so difficult to live more qualitative lives, then I’d be able to stop writing. On the contrary, I know there is no such thing as being perfect or living a perfect life. But, I also know that most people want to know that there will be a time in one’s life where things will go smoothly. Where we can smile for a period of time.

So why don’t we? What kinds of things stand in our way or what kind of obstacles do we impose on ourselves? I think most of us know what we want, but what happens when we don’t or can’t get it? It could be a man. A job. A home. Peace of mind. Energy. More willpower. What’s stopping us?

Well, I like to count the ways, and I do it dramatically. I would like to see more of us happier, healthier, fresher, more eaher to please each other as well as ourselves.

I guess, then, I could say that I write because I want to explore the condition of my own life and the lives of others so that it makes sense, so it means something, so that I might learn from yesterday and right now how it can be of use in the future. I want to be a stronger person, smarter, more interesting. Better able to handle rejection and pain and guilt and happiness. I want my life to matter. I want others to know that their lives matter. That we have more power than we realize. And that all we really have is right now.


Terry McMillan is the author of Getting to Happy , now being discussed in BlogHer Book Club. You can find out more about her at TerryMcMillan.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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