I think there is a certain moment when you do have to look into the face of your own activity and discern exactly what you’re doing and who you are . . . –Leonard Cohen
We will credit this particular reckoning to completion requirements for the MA. Do not expect coherence, you will be disappointed.
Looking into the face of my own activity and identifying exactly what it is that I doing is a bit of a challenge: I have no idea why I write or where the urge to put some small truth on paper comes from. The pursuit of an MA in Creative Writing is certainly not explainable by probability of future riches in the post-MA phase. The words I scribble will not cure AIDS, they won’t feed any hungry children – not even my own – they won’t heal the sick or raise the dead. I am no one’s messiah.
Any self examination raises questions that I do not have the answer to. If I say I write because I seek some small truth, then I must ask what kind of truth there is to tell. Is it my truth or someone else’s truth or something universal.
So, then, I do not write for truth. Do I write from a historian’s perspective: this is how it was, once, and is no more? That may be close. But what an inaccurate historian I am, with no primary texts to research, no time line and not even a name for the voices that demand a poem.
Poetry as a form of schizophrenia, then. Or not. Maybe it is a new age activity where the ghosts of lives past bubble to the surface and burst on the page: do not blame me, mister. I’m just the medium.
How I have progressed as part of the MA process is bound up in why I started in the first place, and why I started it is the question of why I write and an honest examination of why I write is simply the cliff that launches one into the abyss. (My philosophical development aborted at the Existentialists.)
What an agonizing question. Why do you write. The answer is as nebulous and irrational as anything you could come up with to answer someone who asked who you are. Not your name, not where you were born or what acts of prostitution you agree to perform in order to pay your bills, but who are you. Not who your parents were or what family traits you drag behind you like a failed helium balloon. Who are you? Why do you write?
To say that I must write is clearly untrue. If I were to never put pen to paper again, I would not shrivel up and die. There is no imperative about it. To say that I like to write is also untrue. I am in a foul mood for hours after I sit myself down with a story. Who enjoys sifting over the thousands of available words in order to find the one that says exactly what you mean, particularly when what you mean is so subject to shifting from your grasp.
It is entirely possible that there is no higher meaning to the act than a simple matter of habit. Or worse, a function of arrogance; that the phrase you thought of, the rhythm of the words in your head is so unique, so worth while that it must be etched out in paper. What makes you so special, little girl? Nothing. Nothing at all.
A desire for fame, then? To partake in primitive acts of entertainment, long overshadowed by Hollywood and their pretty people. An anachronism: a troubadour in the age of Tivo. Am I no different than those who live by Renaissance Festivals, where test-tube babies battle it out on the jousting field and bellow for their wenches?
One of my favorite blogs ever is www.gapingvoid.com. One of his cartoons declares that the market for something to believe is infinite. Another thing he says is that it is the story that sells, not the product.
Here is a new thought for the day: people have been putting their discretionary funds into stories forever. You walk into a posh home furnishing store. You drop $8,000 on a new sofa, loveseat, diningroom table and dinnerware. The commodities themselves do not cost $8,000. What costs $8,000 is the energy someone has put into building a story about the life you could lead perched casually on that sofa, eating off of those plates, sitting at that table. If it were simply plates, you could get those at Walmart for under $20 a box. But in the story you want to tell about yourself there is no room for Walmart plates and aluminum cutlery.
A rash statement: this is how it is with everything. Publishers and agents want a story too. You can send the best of the best writing ever to 100 agents and you might get two responses. But build a story around yourself and you are a wunderkind. Rags to riches is a perennial favorite. Underestimated, marginalized kid makes good with brilliant literary tome. Who wants the story of a white girl who grew up lower middle class and has aspirations to greatness? My street, my school, my country is filled with them. We aspirants are not special, we are a dime a dozen. If I’m writing for the accolades, for the publication, then I’m in deep shit.
But if I were content with my little scraps of paper there for my own pleasure, why bother with $16,000 worth of a MA program? In Creative Writing, no less.
Try this on for size: I am a writer and a poet because I have an insatiable appetite for story and I find others insufficient to truly satisfy my needs.
Concept: poetry is fiction. The essence of a novel in a handful of lines, cutting away all but the heart of the thing. Do I believe that?