Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Giving "having butterflies" new meaning:

Monday morning I was full of anxiety about all the things I have to do this week not only to prepare for my travels, but also to finish up projects, print a final copy of my thesis, etc. And yet, here it is Wednesday and I feel strangely free. Maybe it had to do with the sudden onset of Monarch butterflies all over town yesterday. Joy L. and I considered the ironic possibility of a person being pushed into traffic by a traveling horde of the critters. We agreed there could be worse deaths. E. and I later surmised that these were the transformed beauties whose more larval bodies we had to patiently navigate when in their "wooly bear" caterpillar form at Helen Putnam Park some weeks back. The caterpillars were amassed in the thousands, hurtling themselves across the paths toward greener weeds (and a couple up my leg), hoping not to become like some of their unfortunatee fellows, meeting with early demise under the wheel of a bicycle. E. was so insistent that we not step on a single one that he became their crossing guard, a sort of pointless, but very sweet gesture.

Though there are still major things to be accomplished between now and Saturday, a couple of the items are off my plate, and I realize that all this anxiety I've had is simple pointless energy wasted on worrying about what has not yet been done. I realize how much of this energy I spend, depleting my poor little self when I could just be doing the damn things instead. It's a great trick though if you want to use overwhelm as an excuse to keep other responsibilities out of your life.

So I'm also stepping into this new place in my life. Accepting that I'm a bit of a know it all and that I like to guide and teach people, at the same time as I am learning not to take responsibility for others. I think that's the ideal place to teach people from, actually. While I will ostensibly have my MFA in less than 16 days, which gives me the ability to teach creative writing in the University setting, I will most likely continue to do as I have been doing: teach creative writing workshops and retreats. I'm not a university gal. But on that note, here is today's lesson:

When Fiction Served a Purpose

"Fiction back then had a kind of documentary function; it was one of the places Americans went to learn about how other Americans lived..."

This is Charles McGrath writing in the New York Times about how fiction no longer addresses issues of class anymore...where everyone seems to live in "anyplace" neighborhoods that he calls "exurbs." This quote is referring to fiction around the first World War. It's so true. Now we watch unscripted reality television to find out how nobody we really know is doing things that nobody really does in real life. He goes on to say more about that:

"But most reality television trades in a fantasy of sorts, based on the old game-show formula: the idea that you can be plucked out of ordinary life and anointed the new supermodel, the new diva, the new survivor, the new assistant to Donald Trump. You get an instant infusion of wealth and are simultaneously vested with something far more valuable: celebrity, which has become a kind of super-class in America, and one that renders all the old categories irrelevant.

Celebrities, in fact, have inherited much of the glamour and sexiness that used to attach itself to the aristocracy. If Gatsby were to come back today, he would come back as Donald Trump and would want a date not with Daisy but with Britney. And if Edith Wharton were still writing, how could she not include a heavily blinged hip-hop mogul?"

Why do You Write?

I've been working up to asking my writers on Word by Word, "Why do you write?" And I don't mean for personal expression...that part's a given. "What is it about books, about literature that makes you not only want to contribute to them, but feel that you have something to add?"

Well then, of course, you're thinking, Jordan, don't be a hypocrite, answer the question here first. Okay. I think most writers begin writing simply because they love books. They love to enter worlds that are portable and can be taken camping, under one's bed, outside in the backyard, into the bathroom and more. (Though the portable television exists, notice how it never really has caught on in the same way. )

A book is a landscape that goes where you go, and that requires the reader to pull from experience/image/feelings/memories inside of themselves to grasp what the writer of the book has written. A book requires imagination, which is an underestimated force, one that I am beginning to think has the power of magic. When you can imagine, a number of things take place: you can feel hope; you begin to literally draw creative energy into your life; you feel good; you use parts of your brain that are otherwise not being used; you teach yourself; you open yourself to possibilities.

Literature makes me feel more connected to myself and the world, more empathetic, more human. The people in the pages of books are not perfect, in fact, they're as fallible, funny, stupid, insensitive and cruel as real people. They aren't exhibiting a standard I must compare myself to and fail to live up to; they are a template to remind me that there is no perfect. And somehow in the unraveling, the failings, the brokenness, the honesty of literature, I feel safer in the world. I feel seen. I feel glad to be here. More than glad, actually. Grateful.

And why do I think I have something to add? Because we each have a perspective, shaped by our experiences, and I happen to also be a writer in this life. My perspective begs to come out of me, and so I allow it.



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