On being a writer
By bintarab
Published: August 10, 2009


On being a writer


One of my friends is a fantastic photographer. She takes the most breathtaking photos, even with a disposable camera. One of her pictures shows a woman standing on a bridge with a little boy and pointing to something on the river. The wind is blowing the woman's hair against the part. The boy must be related to her -- you can tell from the way she's holding him. The two-year old is laughing. The picture is black & white.


My friend has this picture in an envelope in a box stuffed with hundreds of photos she's taken over the years. She has more pictures than she could possibly fit into scrapbooks, so every now and then I just grab a box as we're talking and flip through the photos. I paused at this picture. She apologized because the picture is blurry.


"Are you kidding me?" Her apology was so preposterous that it tore my attention away from the photo in my hands. "This picture is beautiful!"


So it is. I imagine stories behind this picture: the character of a young mother; the boy's fascination with boats (an obsession he'd drop when he turns five and never think about again); a childless woman travelling alone who captures on film an intimate moment that will never repeat itself…


My friend is not a professional photographer. She doesn't make any money from her pictures, and though she spends a lot on film, she doesn't invest in expensive equipment. She doesn't develop her own pictures; she drops the film off at the drug store a few blocks from her home or at the supermarket where she does her groceries. She has an SLR, but she doesn't know how to adjust the settings on it. She also uses disposable cameras and her cell phone.


She's a photographer even when she's not taking pictures. The images are everywhere, and she doesn't need to take pictures of them. She could point and say, "Look at that," and I'll be stunned by something that I had just walked past without seeing. That's what makes her a photographer in my estimation: she sees. She has the eye. To her, the world is color and shadow, angles and facial expressions, young people and old…


… and there's a story in every image.


For her, the stories are intensely visual. For me, the same pictures broadcast stories that are intensely verbal, with personal histories and emotion etched into each scene.


Herein lies the key to the question: What makes a writer: is it something you do or something you are?


Maybe it's neither. It's a way of seeing the world, a way of seeing the stories in things/people/places, a way of catching the words that drip off the eaves when it's raining and shine on car roofs when it's sunny… being a writer is a way. It's about having a mental pen and understanding motivations. It's about not writing as much as it is about writing.


I like to think of myself as a writer whether I write anything or not.