Why He Writes

Yes, dear ones, it’s a bit of a slow day and I have been slogging hard enough on everyone else’s stuff to be a little self-indulgent. Also, when I don’t write regularly, I start to feel a bit tetchy, same as when I don’t work out. So yet another shout-out to another boyfriend, this one dead: George Orwell.

To borrow from Eloise, that intrepid and glorious New Yorker, I just looooovvvvve Orwell. I am late to the party; I didn’t read anything beyond Animal Farm (10th grade) until I started teaching Comp at the local community college. (You know what’s interesting? In the west, they call them junior colleges. Ok, not that interesting.) I assigned the essay “A Hanging” and, as a courtesy to the students, actually read it before I taught it. Great stuff. Orwell is so precise with his language, yet never terse, and brutally honest, particularly about himself and his own shortcomings.

From then on, I started to seek him out, though given the gaps in my education, there were always plenty of other writers to fall in love with (Flannery O’Connor, Louis Lapham, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Swift, Shakespeare for real as opposed to the forced stage kisses in college, Gore Vidal), and I didn’t do anything close to a comprehensive Orwell devouring. I did read Burmese Days and Homage to Catalonia, as well as more essays – Politics and the English Language is a masterwork, and even though everyone seems to know that, it was a real revelation for me when I first read it.

Last time I was at the library, I grabbed the first of 4 complete works volumes and started it last night. The collection kicks off with Why I Write, one of those essays where I kept wanting to run out and read bits of it to the spouse. This is an annoying habit I have, interrupting moments when I think he probably just wants to chill out; it’s also a little silly given that I am a notoriously poor audio processor and almost never want someone to read something to me because I comprehend much better visually. So I stayed put. But man, so many things in this essay – the formative stuff about the running commentary he started to develop in his teens and twenties, the egotism and infantile need for attention of writers, how writing a novel is a “a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness” – ring so true.

There are few things sweeter than having someone you admire echo what’s in your own addled skull. Orwell inspires me. He died when he was my age, but he left behind a body of work that he acknowledged was uneven. Who cares? I’d rather read less-than-top Orwell than about 80% of everybody else out there any day of the week. Over the last several years, I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter that Fly will probably never live in a bound edition, or that no one but the people I care about will ever read my stuff. It used to. Now what matters is that I write. Some of it’s really good, a lot of it’s filler, but all of it’s me. Not a bad way to cling to sanity.

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