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In Which I am Not

In Which I am Not


I’ve run across a pattern here in Goldberg’s book, or at least a pattern for me, one that resonates in me: owning whatever we want in our writing, and then freeing it (31). She expands on this in her chapter “We Are Not the Poem” in ways that ultimately don’t work for me (she applies the discussion to gaining too much recognition for a particular type of writing, and reading that work too often in public – problems I don’t have, and don’t ever anticipate having, to be honest), but where it does work for me is earlier, in her establishing, clarifying discussion of the issue:  “the problem is we think we exist” (34). We think that our words, once we get them down on paper/bits & bytes/whatever, that they are frozen and permanent. This isn’t the case, at all, and as writers we need to remember this (or learn it).

For instance, my first class as an undergraduate was a literature class, and it was one of the really, really basic ones – a good way to start, honestly, and as it dealt with such an array of writers (Langston Hughes and Shakespeare both were represented) it must have been a survey class. Amazing the things that stick in the brain, isn’t it? Anyway, in this class, we discussed “Battle Royal” (a part of the novel, “The Invisible Man”) and much as I would later be frustrated by wondering what exactly was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, I was frustrated mightily by the discussion of the briefcase Ellison’s protagonist receives.

The instructor was a graduate student, working on his thesis (I was SO IMPRESSED by this, that he would just so blithely toss this out, like it was nothing), and I always referred to him has “Mister,” even though he was miles younger than I was at the time. This didn’t feel strange in the least. But I asked him what the meaning for the briefcase was, pointing to a specific line describing the case, wanting more, and specifically wanting the “more” to be an absolute. He responded, “What do YOU think it means?”

This was not helpful to me at all, at the time, I thought. I understood in general terms that the meaning of the briefcase was mutable, and that the instructor wanted me to apply my own critical thinking skills to the reading and my new knowledge about Ralph Ellison and Ellison’s purposes in writing and come to some greater understanding of the briefcase as more than just a leather satchel. Yes, yes, yes, all fine and dandy, good, great, stellar. But what does it MEAN???

You would think that as a child I skipped to the end of a book and read the ending first, but I never did.

The words Ellison wrote in “Battle Royal” that confounded me so much were full of intention, purpose, and meaning, but they weren’t concrete at all. They changed, depending on who was reading them and what personal experiences the reader brought to the reading. That wasn’t what was important, though, and that’s not what is important in my writing either. What’s important is Goldberg’s description of the freeing nature of writing, and “that moment you can finally align how you feel inside with the words you write” (34). That moment is what was important for Ellison, I bet. His book, “Invisible Man,” is full of terrible metaphors for how life was for brown folks in his day, and what life was like as a young man trying to make his way in a horribly racist world. I bet there was some power for him in laying all those words down, describing how it was, but not making it so explicit that people were locked in to one reading. Goldberg says that that moment is key, because once you mesh your words and your feelings, “ “you are free because you are not fighting those things inside. You have accepted them, become one with them” (34). I don’t want to put words in Ellison’s mouth, or his pen, but I do like to imagine that even if he couldn’t be free from the situations that lead to his writing “Invisible Man,” he could at least feel some momentary power just through the articulation.

Goldberg says that there is no permanent truth that can be captured and held in a poem, and I believe her. We, as readers, change all the time, and she, as author, changes along with us, just like we do. The words stay the same, but the meanings they bring with them are constantly changing and shifting. I guess my question becomes whether or not that makes me more or less intimidated by the act of sitting to write?

In Which I Consider Writing as a Practice

In Which I Consider Writing as a Practice

This is the practice school of writing.  Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run.  It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.

(from Writing Down the Bones)

Well, if this isn’t right on for me, I don’t know what is.  A little backstory here…

So I have no classes to teach over the summer – none. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Not by my choice, really, but just the way things worked out with my schools (my father, the alarmist, rang up my sister saying that the family had to be prepared to help me out since I had “lost my job.” Yeah, Dad, that’s not EXACTLY how adjuncting works, but that’s apparently how overreacting works, so it’s all good).

The up side to this is that we are ok financially for me to take off the summer. I have a list of things I want to do over the summer, largest of them being to write.  I have a story I need to tell, and it’s one that’s mine to tell, and no one else’s, and it’s important to me that I tell it, and I own it (I came to understand this after reading this amazing memoir:  Straight Pepper Diet, which I heard about on the Rich Roll podcast). But it’s hard work, writing about something painful, and that made you cry when it was going on, but it’s also good work. My arms and legs and back are sore from the work I did in the yard yesterday (work I did to avoid the work sitting in this damn chair, apparently), so it’s obvious that ALL work makes us hurt, but some types of pain are actually positive – they remind us that we are changing, growing, and effecting our world in some way. I made a mark on my yard, which is good and I can feel it in my body.

So I have this whooooooole long summer (that I realize, no, is not really that long, in the grand scheme of things, but on this side of things, it feels pretty long, especially when I think NO MORE PAYCHECKS), and the main, biggest things I want to do this summer are (1) train for the 10k in September (longest run I have done is a 5k) and (2) write/work on my story. So those are my two goals, and while I haven’t been out of school long (a week maybe?) I have noticed a tendency to do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to avoid doing the two things I ostensibly WANT to do most of all, since I made them the point of the summer.  Here are the things I did yesterday to avoid writing:

  1. Organize my music on my phone
  2. Organize two cabinets in my kitchen
  3. Play my video game
  4. Take Straxi out
  5. Mow the back yard
  6. Weed the garden

Apparently the way to start writing is to do every possible chore in the world, twice. After you finish, THEN you can sit in front of the computer screen and put bit-pencil to byte-paper. I understand now why good writers have gone to such extremes to ensure that they have uninterrupted time in which to write:  we are really, really good at not writing, and we sure don’t need help from anybody else (I’m looking at you, Straxi) to distract us from our intended daily page count.

I’m thinking that this blog will be a great way for me to limber up before I start off on my “real” writing, because when I actually did write day before yesterday, I found that as I was finishing up, I was really starting to find my cadence.

So far what I’ve written on My Story is really pretty horrible, but it could just be that the material I am working with is really hard for me to work through. I think it’s important for me to do it, though, because it’s MINE, and I want to own it and understand it, inside and out, and also because I don’t want to forget it. It was horrible, but it’s MY horrible, and actually, not all of it was horrible.

So I hope to use this blog as an opportunity to stretch, sort of, before I start training on my story. After, when I have said my piece for the day, I will move to training my body and working on that 10k race. I can use it as a treat, sort of, for me and for Straxi.

My view as I try to work...
My view as I try to work…