Why We Write

January 10, 2008

Why We Write – Number 14: Iris Yamashita

Number 14

Today’s piece is written by Iris Yamashita, who wrote “Letters From Iwo Jima.” 


It began, I suppose because my own life was so boring compared to the imaginary characters that I could create.  

In my first diary, I wrote snippets about these made-up people.  There was Elizabeth who was five and whose favorite subject in school was finger painting.  The climax of her life story was seeing two dead cats in the ditch by the school yard.  There was Lynnete Bumble, who “usually heard voices in her mind.”  And then there was the Duster family.  Mr. Duster worked at a newspaper business and had all of five dollars to spend on a nice, warm blanket for Christmas.  Yup, that’s all the Duster family got, because in my make believe world, writers were almost beggars.  But at least they had romantic families that didn’t complain and were ecstatic about a blanket.  Well, maybe I got the first part right. 

In Junior High, I suppose I still preferred my imaginary worlds to my mundane reality.  I was living in Guam at the time where we had something like three channels of television, one movie theater and our major source of excitement was when a typhoon hit the island.  I decided to spruce up our vocabulary exercises.  Each week, we were supposed to form a sentence with our newly learned set of words—imminent, daunted, anguish, etc.  I started a weekly installment about Allanon, leader of the gods and goddesses with different super powers who were battling the forces of evil in the approaching Apocalypse when the dead zombies were to rise from the ground. “Allanon was daunted by the prospect of the battle with the evil forces.  He looked out the window with anguish.  The attack by the army of corpses would be imminent.”

It was also about this time that I discovered that I could make my classmates cry by writing a sappy story about two school chums.  One was a trouble-maker and one was a violin virtuoso.  They become an unlikely pair of friends until one succumbs to cancer.  When my teacher spent an entire class period reading it aloud, I heard sniffles around the room and it was one of the most exhilarating feelings I had ever had.  I was hooked. 

By the time I got to college, however, my Asian practicality and no-nonsense parents brought me back to my childhood philosophy that choosing a life of a writer was choosing the life of a pauper.  To make a long story short, I took a long, circuitous route of a career in engineering and web programming and tortuous beginnings of novels that were never completed before I ventured into the medium of the screenplay.  

It was always there–the magic of the cinema.  But it just took me longer to discover it.  The combination of lights, images, music, and of course words, when orchestrated together was a kind of poetry.  It had the power to move, to feel, to change, to evoke, to be beautiful, to be ugly and even to be beautiful and ugly at the same time.  While books are personal, movies are shared—a group of people in a single room laughing at the same joke, crying at the same scene, being frightened at the same crescendo.  This was truly poetic.

Today, I have thrown the Asian practicality out the window and make my hobby my profession.  I am not yet a pauper (of course that may change with the strike), but my life is still not as interesting as those of my imaginary characters and I still get a thrill out of making other people cry.


WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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