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Staying Tethered, Both Digitally and Metaphorically

I’m currently reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, one of my favorite fiction writers. I’ve been enjoying the book so much that I’ve also been trying to learn more about Egan – it seems every literary publication has been interviewing her lately!

One of my favorite interviews is one recently published by Narrative magazine. More than anything, I like to learn a writer’s reasons for writing. In this excerpt, Egan discusses a period of time in her early 20s when she started experiencing anxiety attacks:

… I started having these panic attacks. I had never heard the term panic attack, since anxiety attacks are more commonly understood now, but I would just become terrified…I was terrified that my life was over. And in the course of that, writing became my lifeline…Again and again I clung to the idea that I was going to write and that was what I cared about. I’ve wavered tons over the years in terms of confidence, but even with a lot of discouragement, I’ve never wavered on the question of whether I was going to write. Not once.

I really identified with this, especially since I’ve also struggled with panic and anxiety. For me, writing is a kind of tether lets me fly a little above the world but doesn’t let me stray too far. If I go for too long without writing, I feel heavy, and my mind feels bloated. I need to dump everything that’s in my head so that I can make sense of it, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. While writing, I can distance myself.

Last year, the New York Times published a piece about a super runner who, before brain surgery, used running as a way to stave off her frequent seizures. Obviously, thinking too hard about something is not as severe as having a seizure, but I do still identify with the runner.

Writing, like running, is a sustained mental practice (just ask Haruki Murakami!), and I often immediately start writing when I feel disconnected from the world or am so angry with it that I feel like I’m going to burst like a balloon lost in the sky.

I’d like to thank the Internet, for giving me and many other writers the freedom to fly a little bit above the crowd without flying too far away. Sure, a lot of the writing on the Internet is crap, but some of that crappy writing was born from a need, a sense of urgency.

Many struggling and aspiring writers waver in the confidence, as Egan did, but the Internet gives us a place to express ourselves. It provides the possibility that someone might read our work and wave to us from the ground.

Think of all the digital publishing options and the freedom they afford us: traditional blogging platforms, microblogging tools like Twitter, reblogging sites like tumblr, forums where aspiring writers can share and critique writing, and easier ways to save and access writing in the cloud. I can organize my ideas more efficiently than I ever could with a pen and paper.

I spend a lot of time in my head. Being able to blog here and share my thoughts has brought me more joy and release than you could imagine. I could always write these thoughts in my personal journal, but I am motivated by the possibility that ONE person (besides my mom) might read my words and tell me that something I wrote moved them to think, regardless of whether or not that person agrees with me.

For helping connect me to people who are important forces in my life and for giving me a public medium that didn’t exist 20 years ago, the Internet is simply the greatest.

(Photo by Originality Since 1994 Photography)

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