Something’s been missing from my writing, as of late. Yes, my thesis for that paper needed a little tightening, and sure, that quote worked better in the second paragraph than in the conclusion. My writing rambles, my arguments deflate, and I’ve truly been trying my hardest to eliminate the passive voice — still, this isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how little I’ve been using the word “I.”
Teachers tell us to avoid the first person, to weed out the “I” out from our scholastic vocabularies like an unwelcome guest. We start writing for teachers, for schools, for good enough grades. There are exceptions, of course — perhaps our teachers assigned creative or personal writing projects at some point. But still, these are assignments to complete and return, eventually reduced to red marks in the margins and single letters at the top.
This isn’t an argument against schoolwork. After all, we need the writing skills we learn as students — they teach us to argue more eloquently, to analyze more effectively, and to express ourselves more comprehensibly. This is an argument against writing exclusively for other people, against forgetting the “I” in writing. (There are two, technically, but that’s another story.) When we write, we articulate our selves, putting our identities into words, explaining our ideas from an inherently personal perspective. When we write, we look in a mirror: We should see ourselves reflected on the page.
I feel like I haven’t written in months, even though I’ve turned in several papers, published a few articles and sent hundreds of emails. In trying to impress my peers or my professors, I’m afraid that my “I” gets lost the moment my fingers hit the keyboard. Not that the papers, articles and emails are devoid of meaning, but I have trouble experiencing the pleasure I once derived from writing.
It bothers me that we don’t write for ourselves anymore. I admire those who write in their spare time, those who reflect for the sake of reflection. It serves as a way to meditate and I value that intimacy — at a place like Yale, where privacy is one of the few privileges we lack, the line between solitude and loneliness can blur.
I think my argument has veered a little off course. I’m not just arguing for writing, I’m arguing against performance at the expense of the self. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost my own “I” during the last semester and a half here. My “I,” perhaps, has been overwhelmed by the number of incredible people I’ve met, swallowed up by the amount of things I feel compelled to do. In my very brief time at Yale, I’ve realized that I’m constantly surrounded by thousands of people, most of whom I’ll never meet. That sense of community can be a good thing. But how much time do we spend on our own? Sequestered in a cubicle in Bass, studying away for the next test or banging out Monday’s paper? Checking a P.O. Box, or waiting in line at Durfee’s? We’re almost never truly by ourselves here, just as we almost never write for ourselves anymore.
I love the stimulation, the energy, the excitement of being on campus. But Yale doesn’t always encourage us to step back, away from the bustle, and to remember our “I”s. I don’t think we should fear solitude; it’s a way to unburden ourselves from our social and academic anxieties. So, if you find yourself with fewer things to do one afternoon, no paper to write, no party to prepare for, no hookup to worry about, then sit down, grab a pencil and start to write. You might just see yourself reflected on the page.