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Jaehee Shin on Why I Write
11 July, 2023
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion, Why I Write, New York Times, 1976
When I moved to Europe from South Korea in February 2015, I learned a new language that I never imagined I would and it became 99% of my life. It was like having a huge part of my life stolen from me because I loved to read and write. People were trying to help me improve my German by correcting my grammar, but that never motivated me in any way, because I was never interested in writing textbook-perfect articles and sentences.
“To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed… The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind… The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture.”
What I was interested in was understanding, as Joan Didion said, that if you change the structure of a sentence, it changes the meaning of that sentence, and it’s a hard ending, it’s a dying sentence, it’s a long sentence, it’s a short sentence, it creates a completely different meaning and mood, because I wanted it to be an expression that came from me, a mood that came from me.
Living a life where I couldn’t express my sensations and thoughts in language made me very sensitive to sensations and thoughts other than language. I had to live by seeing, so I started to observe people’s behavior or attitudes in detail visually, which is also the secret of my last many years of studying architecture.
But for the past year, by assisting women writing architecture, I have been frustrated every day by how difficult it is to write, but also exhilarated by how I am recapturing the joy of life that I had lost.
Why I Write. Three Times of I I I. Taken from George Orwell’s novel, as Joan Didion so bluntly put it. Because it is about how and what I resonate among the multitude of existing beings. These moments of writing are like when you’re in a temple and you would like to mediate yourself, because we need a starting point to stimulate something which is finely tuned to your frequency so that you have the energy to write.
And it can be wild.
or it can be refined, refined, and refined.