Friday, January 28, 2011
Why I Write: The ADHD Edition
I'm uncomfortable with the question, "Why do you write?" It's one of those seemingly innocuous questions that often comes up in interviews between questions about my favorite music to write to, and do I write in longhand or on a computer. I've given various answers at different times because I've never thought that there was a single useful answer for me.
Copywriting? Definitely for the money. Book reviews? The money was never very good, but they gave me excellent access to new books, allowed me to organize my thoughts about them, and taught me a great deal about writing. Poetry? Only if pressed. I'm a terrible poet. Essays? I like to assemble portraits of points in time. Blogs? They're a challenge to maintain (I like a challenge.), and fun to write. Fiction? I like to make stuff up, and if I tell lies in real life, I always get caught, and get all embarrassed.
Some professional writers I know were fortunate enough to start writing fiction very early in their lives. For many young writers, writing is a kind of compulsion, a place to automatically direct all the energy and confusion that must be expressed somehow, some way. Even at my advanced age, I'm jealous of those folks because I didn't start writing seriously until I was in my mid twenties. They've had so much more practice--and any serious writer knows that everything depends on their practicing the craft. As a teenager, I directed all of my energy and confusion into many inappropriate places--I do, however, get major points for life experience!
Thinking about one thing for more than a few minutes--sometimes moments--at a time is a challenge for me. Doesn't that sound silly? But it's true. (No blonde jokes, please!) I've spent much of my life on a quest for Grand Thoughts. Though most days I would settle for being able to remember what I was planning to say to the person at the other end of the number I've just dialed on the telephone.
(I want this hat for a Thinking Cap.)
I've written about my ADHD diagnosis here and there. It's been almost three years since I learned that there was a clinical name for the chaos in my head. To put it very simply, if you think of the brain as a big, colorful screen on which is projected your every thought and sensory experience, having ADHD is like watching that screen while someone else uses a remote to change the channel every 1.8 seconds. And then there's a quiz about what just zoomed by. Unfortunately, the chaos also spills out of my head at an alarming rate of speed--I can make any large, horizontal surface disappear while making dinner, paying a singe bill, getting dressed in the morning, making a grocery list, or just talking on the telephone. I trail lost thoughts and random objects behind me everywhere I go. I'm vain enough that I can usually get out of the house in normal-person clothes, and less-than-crazy hair, but, inside, I'm all lost buttons, untied shoes, and Alfalfa cowlicks.
I could go on, but I get bored easily.
So, how does this all tie into the why I write thing?
I write because writing is my drug of choice. When I'm writing, I am focused. Believe me when I say I've tried plenty of self- and doctor-administered medication in the past to get into a focused state. Usually I just ended up zoned or euphoric or jagged or weepy or just plain bitchy. Non of those states were very comfortable or productive. And I really, really like being productive. No, that's wrong. I really like being busy--productive is like the icing on the cake.
Writing is like a puzzle. First, of course, I get to make everything up. That's the truly fun and easy part because I think there might be about 8,000 people living among the detritus in my head. More than enough for a lifetime of stories and novels. Then, I get to move all the pieces and characters around. And when I set them down, glue them in, they STAY. In one place. When a book is bound and on the shelf, I can't mess around with it unless I want to get thrown out of the bookstore. Even when the books go out of print, they're out there. Somewhere. Permanent. Even if they're shreds in a landfill.
Writing is the way I make sense of the world.
There are a few other things I can do with unaided (read un-Adderalled) focus. I can garden. I think I could spend entire days digging in the garden--and I have stayed outside working until I was planting flowers by porchlight. I can teach--children or adults--and not realize that time is passing. I love the interaction and being able to tailor what I'm saying to what they need to hear. Often, I can read books with concentration. Lately I've found that I almost prefer listening to books while I do needlepoint. (ADHD folks are the original multitaskers.) And I can paint. Walls, that is. I can really lose myself in painting walls and doors and trim--often for days on end. But I think that only gardening gives me the same kind of satisfaction that writing provides.
Sometimes I wish that I had a more romantic answer to the question, "Why do you write?" I think there's probably one there, actually, because nothing is ever really as simple as we think it is.
Just recently, a study about ADHD and dementia came out. It seems that one-third of all patients who suffered from a particular type of dementia had previously been diagnosed with ADHD. I found that study a little shocking, but not surprising. There are films I've seen and books I've read that I've forgotten completely. The good news is that, when I see or read them again, they seem new, yet comfortingly familiar at the same time. Unfortunately, with dementia, there's also plenty of anger and frustration that comes with the loss of memory. I'd rather be stuck with ADHD and be crazy old aunt who forgets birthdays only because she misplaces her calendar and can't go shopping anyway because she forgot to put gas in the car or deposit her pension check.
It's entirely possible that tomorrow I'll come up with yet another reason I write. But I'm glad I've gotten this one down. It feels right. And now this thought can't be lost. I've written it. It exists. It's out there. I can't take it back. Time to move on...