I've got this burning question on my mind lately: why do I keep on writing? And who even wants to read my writing? After all, I'm no longer in Vietnam, no longer interesting, no longer in Vietnam. I don't get frequented by exotic house guests anymore - the geckos, the frogs and the occasional crab, to name but a few. And I no longer have that feeling of soul-satisfying accomplishment, of doing a job that was note-worthy and impressive - I was teaching English in freakin' Vietnam for crying out loud! How many Americans can point their chubby little fingers at a map and even ballpark this country's approximate geographic location?! (Note: I couldn't either until after a little bit of research ;-)
Recently, I read Tim O'Brien's war novel, The Things They Carried, which is a gut-wrenchingly realistic portrayal of a soldier's experience in Nam. It was well-written and you felt bad for the guy. But personally, since I had been to Nam, the only two things in his novel that I could relate to were the heat and the bugs. Everything else was alien to me. I could not swallow his words. His Nam was not My Nam. His Nam was full of fear, anxiety and anguish. Mine was full of hospitality, love and hope. My Nam was flourishing and O'Brien's was burning to the ground. It was hard to compare his story with my own, to think that we both traveled the same landscapes and slept under the same penetrating sun, yet saw this country through two very different sets of eyes. But his story got the wheels in my mind turning. Why does he write? Why does anybody write, for that matter?
I believe that a writer writes for the same reason that a purger purges: to release what's inside of him. That toxic waste. That useless raw material. That cluster of decay that would otherwise debilitate his ability to function. A writer needs to tell his story to the world in order to be at peace with the world. A purger purges, admiring the speckled colors of what was inside him that now lay splattered on the ground, ungracefully, knowing full well that if he hadn't brought them up, this collage of colors would have forever brought him down.
That being said, I have no war stories for you. Sorry folks. The most battling I did in Vietnam was with Mother Nature. I suffered in sweat daily, and from mosquitoes, nightly. The sun and the bugs took spiteful intervals at swallowing me whole. But in exchange, I got the ability to tell stories, because I was left with not much else to do. I was able to translate my life onto a computer screen, meddling with the truth not as often as I would have thought, because life over there was, in good ways and bad, wacky. And why do I write? Because I need to tell stories, even if no one is listening. And I think that answers the question for most.