Why Do I Write?
“….no one is born to be anything but human.”—Eugene C. Thomas
Eugene C. Thomas—Baba Geno—has been a recent guest on NOSHA’s cable access television program The Humanist Perspective. Insights into his life becoming the consummate humanist, from student and soldier, to spiritualist, writer, community radio broadcaster, and attorney-at law, can be heard at the link above. Here, he shares an introduction to his planned book compilation of essays and observations–edited, with permission from him.
Why Do I Write? I did not consider myself a writer until very recently. I wish I could say when the moment hit me, that epiphanic instant, the realization, but that would be impossible. I wish I can say that I knew, as a young child, my destiny was to write, that a talent was seen in me to write by my teachers, my Mother, my Grandfather, the adults in my early life, that I was born to be a writer. However, no one is born to be anything but human. Nevertheless, like a lot of black kids growing up in America, other than the basics necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, schooling and love provided by family and elders – I was not afforded the sumptuousness of self-discovery. The leisure of affluence, time or travel to find one’s self, one’s life passion, to develop and grow that passion into a way of living is a dream of few and a thought foreign – perhaps implausible to the many. What I can say is that fleeting sporadic thoughts of writing and of being a writer has been with me for many years now. Mostly daydreaming, however, of book titles and summaries of the titles, using great syntax in formulating complete sentences and paragraphs of my daydreamed books. Using profound expressions, thoughtful analysis and stories of the human endeavor that have enlightened many folks the world over, with many more anticipating my next best seller. A grant winner as a MacArthur genius. I have written many books that way, best sellers that changed the world, but only in my mind. But with the thought given, more questions emanated from within my being. Questions that seemed to me to be very insurmountable, at times unanswerable and just downright scary and disheartening. “Why do I want to write, my desire, the source of my need to craft words? …What do I want or need to write about? What will I say? …Who am I writing for, myself, my well-being, for other folk and humanity? …Am I a Black Writer because I’m Black or a Writer cause’ I’m human? Who determine such? …How to write, what to read, where to start? …Can I survive and make money as a writer…Should I go back to college for an MFA? …What is my purpose and intent? Money, vanity and ego, fame, love, beauty, wisdom, truth, humanity, literary immortality? …Why Am I Writing?” Questions perpetually evolving with each day of living, finding that truth and wisdom divulge more questions, expanding like the universe deep into the unknowable, the “Dark Matter” of one’s mind and thoughts.
In “The Creative Process”, James Baldwin suggest that writing is an art, the writer, an artist, and as such, “he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone.” But the state of aloneness he speaks of is not the aloneness of simply being alone, by one’s self, feeling lonely or a contemplative serenity one may experience while observing a beautiful sunset. No, it is the ubiquitous aloneness of “birth, suffering, love and death”, the inevitable scrutiny of thought and awareness we all, individually, must have with oneself as we live and experience these great enigmas of being human. We come to know that for most people (if not all) existing today, living is suffering through life occupied with ever-present tragedy, relative to each individual and the societal environment one happens to be born into. However, what I find to be true is that many of us seek to avoid this certainty with palliative myths and fictions of foundation and cultural sustainers created by individuals, societies and nations alike in attempts to bring order to the masses, to give personal meaning and resolve to life’s pandemonium and an inexorable death. Perhaps it is societal conditioning that coerces many into numbness with thoughtless entertainment, sporting spectacles and pharmaceuticals. Maybe it is our evolutionary habituate, some would say instinctive, fear of dark places, of the unknown that compels us to dodge these thoughts, the aloneness of self, the banality of birth and death. But we as writers, as artist, at Baldwin’s urging, we are “enjoined to conquer the wilderness” of self-within, cultivate the aloneness – “the mystery of being human” – “to illuminate that darkness, …to make the world a more human dwelling place.” We cannot run and dodge. We must face birth and death and all things therein between simply because we, you, me, I exist. Hence, I ask myself, why am I writing?
I am writing because I have something to say. Something that need to be heard, one voice amongst the 7.6 billion trying to understand this transitory journey we call life. Yet I am like Ellison’s greatest protagonist, “a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. (Nevertheless), I am invisible, …, simply because people refuse to see me.” Herein lies my concern. For in America – White-America and its’ socio-political systems in particular – it is my assigned racial fallacy, my prescribed color, my Blackness that precedes me. It is always first, the initial encounter, response, interaction or reaction until given proof, …proof that I am a well-meaning individual, no harm intended or implied. The art of putting white folk at ease has become habitual, second nature – many times unconsciously automatic – for myself and many black folk. Sadly, we are inclined to view each other through the lens of our prescribed color and all the presumed implications therein first and foremost. The individuality, the humanness of the individual tends to become secondary, invisible within the fallacious racial scheme imposed. I am seen, nonetheless, synchronously not seen. But within this state of invisibility, I will take a stand, shout out loud for myself, for those whom society proclaimed invisibles and tell my (our) story.
I’ll tread in the resolve of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, “I’m coming out, no less invisible …, but coming out nevertheless. …since there’s a possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play.”
I am writing my own book, telling my story—a memoir, an autobiography, a collection of essays, experiences, observations and thoughts. Not because I’m famous. Not because I think I have some life changing advice or a happy ending or words of encouragement to offer anyone. There is no story of a personal rise and fall followed by an extraordinary life-saving redemptive struggle. I have no desire to find my purpose for living in challenging death by jumping off a bridge with a giant rubber band as my lifeline. No desire to conquer the Earth in climbing Mount Everest or travel across the Pacific Ocean in a 10 foot sailboat, facing waves as tall as a 10 story building. No stories of astonishing feats and expeditions to tell. There is no story of the prodigious black kid from the rough streets of New Orleans who was rescued by a good white Samaritan savior, from a contrived life of poverty and all things therein – drug addiction, criminal endeavors, bad education, mental illness, prison, police killings or an early death by gun violence to engender sympathy. I didn’t escape the turmoil and chaos by my exceptional sporting abilities. Although there are moments where love may be the focus, an example of our human struggles of joy, happiness, pain, life and death – there is no story of an unrequited love or love happily-ever-after. In my opinion, there are way too many memoirs of the sort already and they tend not to reflect the reality of the masses. Tens of thousands are written and published every year for example, by people I had never heard of, with memoirs of reflection sitting in the forest somewhere (sometimes lost for two days) to obtain self-discovery or memoirs of relationships with the family pet after its’ death or the lonesome long-haul trucker bringing to life the view 10 feet above the road as he traverse across America delivering goods and commodities.
I am writing for my sanity. Trying to make sense out of the non-sense, this state of absurd reality we find ourselves in at this time, the era of Trumpism. The inhumanity we impose upon each other, be it individual relations or those imposed by societies and governments at large. A time where nations, leaders and individuals are living within their own reality – exclusive of reality – the reality of our interconnectedness, the intertwining sinews of ecological, cultural and biological evolutionary processes that binds our humanity as one. The reality of our shared and individual Humanness, dwelling on a mass of atoms, roaming the Dark Matter of the universe – unknown.
We don’t see the humanity in our fellow beings as we go about and interact with each other on a daily basis.The parent who abuses and neglects a child has lost sight of that child’s humanity. Emotional and physical abuse between spouses, minor traffic incidents that become road rage skirmishes of life and death are moments of humanity unseen. A teenager that bring firearms and pipe bombs to school to murder his fellow classmates and teachers, does not comprehend or see the humanity in himself and those injured or killed. The systems of White World Supremacy, what W.E.B. DuBois’ in Black Reconstruction pronounced as a “carefully planned and slowly evolved method” – a method of institutionalized racism and “the psychological wage” of whiteness that gives societal deferential treatment to the fallacy of whiteness and race. A structure deeply-rooted in the dehumanization of people taken from Africa, shipped to America as commodities of labor to be beasts of burdens, breeding specimens and Union contraband after the Civil War – denying their sense of humanness ever since through violence and intimidation, manipulation of laws and socio-cultural propaganda.
Even the religions of the world, at their core, are antagonistic and inhumane with one and other. Within most of the sacred texts, doctrines and tenets of these religions there is some form of “The Golden Rule” similar to the biblical rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12), that a God or god(s) “created mankind in his (her or their) own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female …” (Gen. 1:27 NIV) and to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV). “For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11 NIV). Yet in spite of this illustration of the goodness and hope in Christian scripture, also contained within those very same texts and doctrines are the inconsistent promulgations that the only way to salvation and grace is through their particular dogma – the tenets. It is the only way at the exclusion of any other god belief. That “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah (God) Never will It be accepted of Him. Of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks Of those who have lost.” (Soorah Aal’imraan 3:85). “Never have any other god. Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,…” (Exodus 20:3-5 NIV). Even Buddhist must follow the compulsory Noble Eightfold Path to reach Nirvana – salvation, otherwise, you exist in a world of chaos and sorrow, destined to repeat it again and again until submission to the Path. These contradictions are not exclusive of African traditional religions or any other native or indigenous belief systems. And it is through belief in the core tenets, the paradoxes of the dogma, doctrine and texts –believed literally by many to be infallible – that leads and has led to countless acts of man inflicting inhumanities upon one and other in their god’s name. Wars of conquest, Crusades, Jihads, plunder, pillage, rape and exterminations of entire populations are staples of history. From nation to our individual relations, xenophobic beliefs, nationalism, political and ethnic separations and most of all, religious fanaticism tend to give birth to human indifference, to see “the other” – be it consciously with intention or unconsciously through social conditioning – as less human than themselves. I have come to think that within all of this, on any given level within this stratum, essentially it is the individual, the ego of self-centeredness, selfishness, vanity, opulence and power – even fear – that give life to schisms and division primarily through rhetoric and propaganda within and throughout a given populace and give cause or validation for inhumane actions. How does one make sense of this nonsense?
I am writing in search of truth, whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute, where ever it may be found and whatever the source may be. “Truth and Morning become light with time” so says an African Proverb. But to understand and know truth, I realize that must be truthful with myself first and foremost, to find my own truth. The narrative that I have been telling myself, the truths, the lies, and all things in between and outside of the two—the story I have based my life upon.. The real truth of the matter is that I am a Human Being, a Homo Sapien Sapien, simply, before any other label is or was attached to my Being.
I am writing because I am a writer. I have always been a writer but I just didn’t know it. My journey as a writer began with the story books my older brother, T-Bird, read to me, a toddler of 3 or 4 years of age, when he entered the 1st grade. He would bring home the reading books with stories of Dick, Jane and Spot the dog, to practice his newly acquired reading skills on me. At night, he would read them to me as bedtime stories, to which I found plenty of joy. From this joy, began my fascination with books and words, yet I had no idea of being a writer or what a writer was for that matter. However, “Tuggy the Tugboat” and “The Little Engine That Could” were my favorites – so much so that I began to recite the words of the stories along with him, sometimes to his exasperation. Eventually I began to read them on my own, perhaps due to the now frequent refusals and difficulties of getting my brother to read to or for me.
I started to keep a diary of my life at about the age of nine. I became captivated with diaries by watching TV shows such as The Brady Bunch, “ABC After School Specials” and various cartoons where some of the characters kept a secret diary, with secret plans, secret thoughts and secret experiences, off limits to everyone. Even parents were forbidden to look inside. This idea, the idea of having something, thoughts that only you alone knew fascinated my mind so much, that I began to write about me, my secret plans and my life. Unfortunately, this endeavor did not last long and neither did the diary I had written, a boy 9 years in life had better things to do outside – like playing ball in the parks and streets, shooting marbles in the backyard by Nelson’s house, bike journeys around New Orleans and hopping trains to Audubon Park and back.
Now that I am a writer, the question still remains – “Why Am I Writing?” I don’t have the platform, training or education of a journalist or the prestige and tenure of an English Literature professor. The affluence and influence of a prominent intellectual with access to money and time to write, publishing and the public, tend to require a “friend of a friend with friends.” Even as I write daily – in my journal, in my note book of essays and ideas, when jotting down thoughts or something I heard in passing on random pieces of paper, on social-media comments and postings – as I wake in the morning, go about my day and laying down to sleep – it is hauntingly there – stirring in my thoughts without a solid answer to grasps. Thoughts of no one reading or hearing my words, that I, individually, don’t matter in the world’s grand schemes and schisms; or am I egoistic and slightly vain to think that my writings, thoughts and ideas should matter? Was in not the Ecclesiast Kohlat who proclaimed the “Vanity of vanities, [is that], all is vanity.”? Well if all is vain, as suggested by the Preacher, then writing is all that I have – the essence of my free will of thought and mind revealed within this illusion of free will. I write to help me in understanding this banality of aloneness we traverse, our individual journey within the parameters of birth, joy, suffering and death – in grasping how my youthful optimism got lost and caught up in a middle age pessimistic, perhaps at times, nihilistic view of life’s realities and experiences; to emerge hopeful with a love for life and living.
I write because I know the power of words, words written and spoken, for it is words that spark and perpetuate man’s cruelties and inhumanities. It is words that ignite revolution and progress and inspiration. The etymology of words, written and spoken, are humanity’s evolutionary attempt to communicate with each other regardless of their cultural or geographical origin. No word or language is original within itself. Language, word creation and usage coincide with our evolution as we walked out of Africa and dispersed globally. What matters most, in my humble opinion, is the context and intent of its use by the user, the writer/artist. “But some situations may require you to write about a subject that is not from your heart… then what?” I was asked by a friend and poet one day as we discussed the purpose of writing. There is nothing that requires you to write heartless unless it is malicious, intentionally misleading and or false. Even during my time as an attorney writing legal briefs, preparing for trials, I always wrote from the heart and mind. It is required only if we choose to separate our humanity from all writings. Yes, there are some occupations and situations that may require one to write mechanically and technically, but to write without mindfulness and consideration of all angles, aspects and implications the words may or will have upon the reader, situation or whomever your audience may be in any genre or format is not requirement. Why would one not want to write from the heart and mind in truth and honesty no matter the situation? Is that not what humanity needs, truth and honesty in this climate of Alt-facts, Trump, police violence and oppression? We, as writers and artists, must be responsible for our words no matter where we put them, be it verbally or written, for we are humanity’s illuminators of life’s darkness for the individual and society. The bearers of hope. As James Baldwin advised, “Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.”
A wise man once said to me, “There is no Them. There are only facets of Us.” We now know that humanity’s Star, our Sun, will dim someday and so will our humanity, unless we reconcile our dystopian past and present, our inhumanities, to be hopeful for the future – our very survival. 3 Yoruba Adages “No condition is permanent, Change is inevitable, Change or perish”.
I write because I am.
Eugene C. Thomas
“There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” Albert Einstein.