On Writing Wrongly

“If stories and novels used the selective form of funeral elegies, no one would read them.” -Charles Baxter

Some people think it’s best to write about your life when you’re at the end of it. Conventional wisdom says to write when you can look back with an accumulation of experience, give a neat little narrative about yourself with the vignettes you decided to remember, and then die before you can contradict your story. This isn’t what I’ve done.

At the end of the summer following my graduation from college, I came out as gay through a narrative blog post. In the fall following my graduation from law school, I had a second coming out. It was, in a lot of ways, much more dramatic than the first. I came out as a hypocrite… through a narrative blog post.

Why not me? 

That same fall I listened to a lot of talks by Mindy Kaling. I don’t know why, but I have a thing for successful sassy women. Kaling’s second book is titled, Why Not Me? She says the title has two meanings. The first is the complaining meaning: “Why not me?” in the sense of complaining why great things don’t happen to me. The second is the ambitious meaning: “Why not me?” in the sense of deciding, “If someone’s going to work through or achieve this thing, why don’t I just do it?”

People of accomplishment live their lives by the latter so that others don’t have to ask the former.

So I came out the first time, as gay. I decided to share my story after a suicide attempt by my friend’s little brother, who came out to his Catholic family after he didn’t die. I decided to write and speak publicly on questions related to faith and sexuality because I wondered how his life might have been different if he knew he wasn’t alone in his struggles. I wondered how my life might have different if I knew gay Catholics growing up. Gay Catholic writers know that isolated silence is a friend of death. So we write. I wrote.

This was a risk. The risk involved failing to achieve integration in my personal life, while giving advice on it in my public life. The risk also involved telling false stories, either because I didn’t understand my stories or because I had deceived myself as to the relevant details and how they fit together. I took the risk and failed. I lived, to a great extent, a double life, in which I spoke on faith, celibacy, and LGBT inclusion, while hooking up and struggling in my own faith.

I don’t regret taking that risk. I wish I hadn’t made those many mistakes, but at the same time they have taught me many lessons. One lesson is that I must write from humility, as one who is still very much figuring things out and is probably wrong about a great deal.

We sometimes like to think that we write from the resolved places. But really we write from the process of resolving. And writing functions as a significant part of that process. I usually have a relationship of mystery to my writing. I begin writing from a question and come to unplanned conclusions in the writing process. And these conclusions are always half-baked.

But half-baked is better than raw material. And the more I write, the more I come to believe that the only kind of writing is half-baked writing. All the rest is delusion. All things are a beginning. The only way to live my life with any kind of honesty is to live like I’m always–and merely–on the verge of something. It’s a little scary. But it’s exciting, and creative, too.

4 thoughts on “On Writing Wrongly

  1. Hi Chris, thank you so much for your words. I started following you a little while ago because I struggle to understand how to integrate the reality of my faith with the reality of the gay world (for lack of a better description, and I hope you know what I mean). Both are real, and both seem so opposed, so it was refreshing to find you, a bridge, as you put it, between the two worlds. And as I followed your blog, I found it interesting in so many other ways. And you write poetry! So do I, intermittently and not always very well. I was interested in your idea that writing is a form of resolution. I agree, which is why a lot of my poems are lying unfinished. This suggests a poem to me … so I will stop there. All best wishes and God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

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