Writers on Writng #14: Joe Janca
When I received an e-mail asking if I would be interested in writing a piece for Passages North’s Writers on Writing series, I froze. I re-read the message to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Then I laughed to myself, the kind of nervous chuckle your body emits when someone catches you so off-guard that there’s no other way to react.
Writers on Writing? Me? Wouldn’t I have to actually be a writer to qualify for the gig? Sure, I’d spent the past decade of my life studying the English language, eventually earning a (appropriately named) BS, an MA, and most recently, an MFA, all in the realm of creative writing. But over the course of my academic career, I often felt out of place. In class after class, I was surrounded by people who seemed to live and breathe the English language, who worshipped the written word. High-minded artists who had chosen to devote their lives to the craft, spending sleepless nights agonizing over word choices and sentence structure.
I’ve never felt like one of them. Despite my degrees and the hundreds of hours of writing workshops and the countless pages I’ve written, I’ve never felt like a writer. The trajectory of my entire academic career is, in fact, linked more to my hatred of math than some deep-seated desire to write. I started out as a Computer Information Systems major, but found myself struggling with one of the required math classes. Around the same time, my EN211 professor began to show an interest in my writing and encouraged me to pursue it. I switched majors, graduated a few years later with a Bachelor of Science in English Writing, and had no idea what to do with it. I stumbled into an MA, then an MFA, for no other reason than I didn’t know what to do with my life and the real world seemed scary.
The truth is I hate writing. At any given moment, there are countless things I’d rather be doing—and more often than not, those things win out. For example, I wrote the first paragraph of this piece over a week ago. In the time since, I have wasted upwards of 24 hours watching various British sitcoms on Netflix, dedicated at least 8 hours to trying to master the ukulele, and made several trips to the gym (though I suppose that last one is forgivable). That’s saying nothing of the lengthy text message exchanges, Facebook stalking, and minutes upon minutes spent trying to get the most possible points per turn in Words with Friends. Of course, the whole while I kept telling myself I should be working on this, with the negotiations inevitably resulting in an agreement to do it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
And yet, here I am, finally doing it. After much procrastination, I’m finally sitting here, pouring my mind out onto the virtual page. And much as I feel like an impostor, I am writing. And I have written countless essays, short stories, a smattering of angsty poetry—even a book. I don’t have a daily writing routine. I’m lucky if I can get myself to sit down and pound something out every other week or so. But I keep coming back. Once I’ve gotten all the distractions out of the way and I can no longer keep my mind silent enough to make it through another hour of a videogame or a movie, I find myself sitting here again.
Maybe that’s why I write. Maybe that’s why, despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I am a writer. Because I can’t turn my mind off. I can’t just go through the motions of life without reflecting on it. I think, and think, and think, about my father and how he gave up a career as a professional musician to work in a General Motors factory for 31 years. About my brother’s ongoing struggle with addiction. About my own serial monogamy—that constant, desperate need be wanted. These things are part of me, part of my family, and I need to know why. I need to know what leads us to the paths we take in life.
And, in the end, that is why I write. Because I carry the weight of countless lives in my head. Because the only time I can silence the constant questioning is when I sit in front of a keyboard and let those questions—and, occasionally, their answers—flow out of me. I write to try to figure out who I am. I write to try to understand the world around me and within me. I write because I would lose my mind if I didn’t.