This Is Why We Write: Past, Present, and Future

This morning, my four year-old stood at my closet door, holding open a little pink purse, her eyes full of expectation. I was rooting through my bag of scarves, looking of one that could do the job. I knew it the second I saw the wrinkled amber colored silk.

The magic of this faded scrap of fabric could only work on you if you’re a preschooler who trusts your mother’s magic or if you’re someone who trusts in the power of writing down our stories.

First, why am I digging up relics from the bottom of the closet on this particular Monday morning? Easy: I need to cast a spell…

My older daughter and I are about to board a plane to Ireland. My little one will find her way through the next ten days with her daddy and grandparents, and I know it’s going to be wonderful and hard for all of them depending on the day, depending on the hour. Right now, we’re creating a magical toolkit, a little bag of comfort and distraction that will remind her that this is a temporary adventure and that we’ll all be together again soon.

And what better way to connect us than this silk scarf that found its way into my life on September 5, 1999. This was a particularly stormy late summer day on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry and our ferry to the Blasket Islands was cancelled due to the weather. My roommate and I explored the shops. I bought this scarf for my hair from a place that smelled on incense and looked something like a hippy shop back in Boston.

I'm known for having an uncanny memory (except for when I forget things completely thanks to nearly a decade of maternal sleep deprivation), but I wouldn't have known the exact date I visited that wild corner of Ireland without my journal. It has been years since I looked back at my once compact, perfect handwriting to read back on all the ways I unfurled and retreated, transformed and reworked what I knew it meant to become myself and chase my desires.

In that entry from 1999, I was a twenty year-old who found myself living the first moments of my wildest dream, a year in Ireland to explore and study, drink and smoke, recover from breaking someone’s heart and have my own heart broken by someone else in the bargain. I recorded my explorations to savor them hours and days later.  I never could have imagined the mother who'd unearth that black book and would use its stories to soothe her little girl.

This is the magic of writing, the way it becomes a telephone line across decades and helps make sense of life today.

Maybe you have a stack of old, full from margin-to-margin journals tucked into a desk drawer as I do. Maybe they’re full of candy wrappers, dried flowers, and scraps of paper scrawled with old a name and phone number that makes you blush at the thought of nights you almost forget. Maybe you have roadmaps that take you to the heart of memory and help you navigate this unexpected life that you live today.

Or, perhaps you never thought of yourself a writer and never gave yourself time to record much of anything at all. You might be someone who has believed in burning old notebooks in order to release the pain and claim the future. Maybe those old journals just seemed like a way to cope and you lost track of them since you never considered going back to your own ancient history might be the surest way to grow right now.

Whether you have a library of your own scribbled thoughts or you’ve never kept a diary in your life, it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you can give yourself permission to start writing today.

 That's me on the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway in September of 1999 and yes, I am wearing the "magic scarf."

That's me on the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway in September of 1999 and yes, I am wearing the "magic scarf."


You might begin writing because you wish the version of you who was doing amazing things in 1999 had left you a few notes about how she really felt. You might write today so the people you love and care for in 2039 will understand who you were once upon a time.

Most importantly, I invite you to write because of who you are right this minute. Write because pulling your ideas, your fears, and your hopes through the filter of the written word can change the ways you view the past, the future, and this very real present moment.

Do you find it hard to give yourself the chance to write? Are you longing for an excuse? Please join us for a free community practice session this week or at the end of the month when I’m back from Ireland with a new journal full of stories.

We’re holding two free community writing practice session this April. The first is one on Wednesday, April 11 and the second is on Friday, April 27, both at noon ET. Come to one or both. Expect a new set of writing prompts at each one hour gathering.