For me, the call to write is a ghost.
“The Choices Writer’s Make”—more so, Jerald Walker’s essay on Michael Jackson, “Before Grief,” and also June Jordan’s essay “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan”—got me thinking: why do I write? What is the rhetorical situation of my fiction? For me, it’s different from a societal need. Not to pigeonhole the “rhetorical situation,” but it does tend to demonstrate that the reason to write ought to be based on a necessity of action. Action in the sense of external. What the people, or planet, needs. Michael Jackson dies, people wonder why they should care—they call him a freak show, they question his legacy—which compels Walker to write his essay, in a sort of defense. Sure, it’s not always a defense—someone might want to forward a new idea, like Jordan’s essay on Black English versus Standard English, because they foresee a benefit to interested parties, or they aspire to interest more parties. Still, in that, it seems to be a question of benefitting society. The exigence, often referred to in our literature, seems to be that of the external requirement.
That is not why I write fiction. However, there is a “rhetorical situation.” My need to write is far more physical, as I’m sure it was, in part, for Jordan and Walker. After the cop killed Willie Jordan’s brother, after Walker read a post about how his idol had been called a freak show, a deep, guttural necessity forced them to their notebook or computer. My reason for writing happens constantly, from that feeling. I’m walking down the street, I’m working in a preschool, I’m riding the train. I see something, I hear something, which creates something, which I can’t put my finger on yet. At night, it comes back to me: What is that? I hear it, I see it, that image, that moment. What do I do with it? Nothing for now. It’s hard for me to come to terms with it. Wait, there it is again. It’s clearer. It spurs other images, other ideas. Why do I write it down, though? What compels me to stop everything and put the words into a notebook, then bring the notebook to the computer? The answer is simple: whatever it is that’s creating the story is following me around like a haunting ghost. And I’m Whoopi Goldberg. The reluctant psychic, who ought to interpret it. Or else it might keep lingering. That’s the situation.