This is not about a cactus, though with every few words I type, I glance at the one on my desk. I relate to you, cactus. I feel both guarded and vulnerable lately. I won’t get into why that is, nor do I want to talk about the things on my desk today; plants, stationery or otherwise. But I’m willing to talk about what I’m doing right now—about using writing as a protective barrier.
What can writing shield me from? From being overwhelmed by outside forces demanding attention and energy. From my own emotions, the most chaotic of which, if repressed, become ticking time bombs, pits of quicksand. From gambling effort away on sparkling social media hearts. From falling into apathy when grounded engagement in real life is sorely needed. And so I deploy this shield in a few different situations: in daily life, activism and creative work.
Let’s say I get an email containing stressful news in the middle of the day. I stop what I’m doing, but I don’t actually take the time to rest, either. Before I know it, I’m opening an app on my phone. If I’m making good choices that day, I’ll interrupt this mindless habit with a clear and intentional truth: what you’re looking for is not here. Then, instead, seek out a piece of paper. Whether I write about the stress directly or about something completely unrelated—whether what’s written is even intelligible, let alone “good”—doesn’t matter. Leave every ugly instinct on the page. In this scenario, writing is about scooting over to make room for discomfort until it wanders off of its own accord, rather than trying to outrun it or smother it with distractions in the short term. I can’t say I make it to my notebook every time. But when I do, the cloud of restlessness dissipates faster, stays away longer.
By the way, this example works for sitting with any kind of strong feeling, not just the unpleasant ones (anger, sadness, boredom, et. al). Before a long-awaited happy occasion or an exciting phone call, I’ll sometimes make time to scribble in some margins beforehand…even if it’s just so I don’t forget my own name lol.
With activism, the protective energy is directed outwards, instead. For me this is about putting down words in the service of community. For example, taking notes during webinars or workshops held by marginalized people to articulate their struggles and needs. Sometimes the talks are so insightful and affecting that I end up trying to write everything down and barely look up from my notebook. (Which is why I sometimes switch to drawing the speakers—it helps me slow down and refocus on the present). This isn’t a sign of boredom, but of active listening. Committing attention to the particular words and phrases the speakers use to describe themselves is especially important if I don’t belong to the same community. Not only does it widen my own understanding, but it ensures that if the topic comes up with someone else in the future, I’ll be better prepared to amplify the message of those most affected, not distort it.
The act of writing happens twice: on the paper and in the pathways of memory. After the workshop has ended, staring at my notes, clear questions emerge from between the messy lines: What have I learned? What needs to change? What resources do I have to give? Words are not a substitute for action, but I can carry forward their impact and let them guide my next move. In this way, I can expand the force field of writing to include and defend the voice of another.
Listening attentively to others. Making space for myself. To wield writing in those ways also gives me the practice and power necessary to safeguard a third party. This is the part of me that stirs and opens one dragon eye when it encounters other works of art. It catches inspiration that strikes like lightning and industriously hoards it for later. It says, “drop whatever you’re doing, I’ve got some ideas and we need to talk”. At its insistence, I write: isolated phrases, strange images, half-remembered quotes, snatches of dialogue, all with no obvious relation, no logical order. But as with writing through discomfort, no filters are allowed here. Creativity can be demanding, but it can also be raw, and quite fragile. Imagination is required to grow stories, empathy, self-awareness, and new ideas of the future—none of which can flourish if intrusive thoughts and doubts trample on them first. The words I choose to build meaning with become a fortress around a treasure that must be preserved at all costs: my own voice, as well as where and how I choose for it to be heard. Don’t touch! But here, enjoy a flower.
Text and photos by: A.C. Esguerra
Where to find A.C. : instagram @blueludebar
Read other stories by A.C. : Here
Bk Artifacts Featured:
- Traveler's Notebook / Camel
- TN / 030 / Brass Clip / Airplane
- Safari Fountain Pen / White
- TN / 011 / Archive Binder