On the Symbiotic Nature of Writing

Words and Photos by Alexis Gresh

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I always thought I loved reading. I was enamored with good writing in any form. Books. Essays. Poetry. Letters. The local paper of a city I've just arrived in and have no clue about. Any collection of carefully curated words that could introduce new ideas that would edify or entertain or excite me in some way. There are a thousand cliches about what books can do for us, and every one of them is painfully relatable to me. But good writing is undeniably powerful.

Writing and reading are intimate activities. They both happen typically in solitude, wherever we feel we have enough privacy to unabashedly open our minds and be candid about our observations, opinions, beliefs, and imaginations.

It wasn't until recently, a million stories and ideas in, that I identified that the power of good writing is a product of its symbiotic nature. The power comes from human connection. There's an inexplicable relationship between the writer and the reader. It's always so interesting to me how soft my heart can be for a writer once I've read them. Or, conversely, how acutely a written word can strike me to fear or anger. It's because writing and reading are intimate activities. They both happen typically in solitude, wherever we feel we have enough privacy to unabashedly open our minds and be candid about our observations, opinions, beliefs, and imaginations. It's only in that open-minded solitude where we are our most honest, our cleverest, our most poignant, and above all most beautiful versions of ourselves. And by assuming the position of a writer or reader and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we become our most relatable. That's why we can begin to feel for a writer. We connect with them through some witchcraft-like word cathexis. We invest our emotions in their words.

And so I learned that I loved writers. Because the writers of the world are the ones who are willing to stand on a platform with their minds open, thoughts bared to the public. Some have the power to gather an audience that will turn their platform to podium or a pulpit or a stage. The rest find that they've stepped onto a scaffold. But that's the risk that comes with writing. You have to hope that your ideas can flicker into enough passion to ignite your boldness to open yourself to a connection that might make some sort of difference. I think that's one of the most beautiful qualities of writing--the influence it can have. But it can only influence if you take the risk of stepping up to the platform. Imagine if Maya Angelou had taken Emily Dickinson's approach of sharing her work-- only 14 of Dickinson's poems were shared publicly during her lifetime. The rest remained hidden in desk drawers and journals until her sister found them and published them four years after her death. Angelou's opposite approach of using her art to speak out against injustice sent shock waves through culture. In 2013 she told the Associated Press “I’ve seen many things, I’ve learnt many things, I’ve certainly been exposed to many things and I’ve learnt something: I owe it to you to tell you.”

I’ve seen many things, I’ve learnt many things, I’ve certainly been exposed to many things and I’ve learnt something: I owe it to you to tell you.
— Maya Angelou

After writing and reading, spending countless hours with author after author who I'll never meet but who has had a strong influence on me nonetheless, and finally realizing that I have some sort of bizarre metaphysical relationship with them, I decided to experiment with the symbiotic nature of writing. I started writing more letters. I started sharing my ideas on paper. I created this platform for the people I meet who inspire me to write theirs.  I want to try and pull the connection a little closer by forming that writer-reader relationship with my peers. I want to share my writing. I want to read yours. After all, any of my peers could be one of my favorite writers. I'm not saying that we're the next Maya Angelou or Emily Dickinson, but even without a crown of literary nobility we could fall somewhere in the middle of their spectrum of publishing their work. Because my peers (though they have entirely different lenses on life, leading them to unfamiliar observations, opinions, beliefs, and imaginations than I have) may be able to communicate their different observations to me more simply than anyone else. By sharing our open-minded solitude, my peers and I could connect, inspire, and edify one another more deeply, if we're willing to stand on the platform together.