Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living the Dream. Still.

Outside the street's on fire/ in a real death waltz/ between what's flesh and what's fantasy/ and the poets down here/ don't write nothing at all./ They just stand back and let it all be. -- Bruce Springsteen

It happened in high school. Ms. Norem, my junior English teacher passed out some spiral notebooks (schools used to provide materials back then) and told us we would spend an entire semester writing in those journals. We would then take some of what we had written and revise it into essays that would be graded. I think we did a narrative, a report, and an argument. What we wrote about was up to us.

In current parlance, I was, "Like.... What!? I don't know what to write."

"The whole semester?? No Way."

So it began. I and the other students filled the days writing in our journals while the radio played in the background. I can still hear lyrics of popular songs  -- "I can see clearly now. The rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way....". Periodically, Ms. N. would call us up to her desk to discuss what we had written. She also collected and read the journals just to keep us accountable. And she counted pages. I think was part of our grade too -- just pages. She made only reader response type comments on the journals. She wrote in the margins things like "Sounds like you had a wonderful time sledding out at the State Park," or "I like this line about how some music makes you see things in your mind."

I was hooked. I began keeping a journal at sixteen and haven't yet let up. That was 43 years ago.

Keeping a journal has been on the constants of my life. I have searched for and found answers to problems and questions I had. I have recorded days that were bliss and days that dragged me through personal hells. Anything was fair game. Most of the writing was bad, meant only for my eyes. But all of it helped me to find out who I was at any given point.

As an introvert, I like talking to myself to figure things out. I don't find much wisdom in the thoughts of many, nor am I all that wise. But I do trust myself to ask the hard questions, the ones no one else seems to want to hear. The journal has been the repository for those questions.

For better or worse, writing has become the most valuable aspect of my life, beside my family.

That class, and others that followed in college and beyond, set me on a course to be a writer, a writer at all costs. Write or die. I was ruined. 

But where has all this magical eros led me?

It resulted in my becoming a fair to middling writer and a reluctant teacher. Reluctant because I am so painfully introverted that being in front of people feels like my skin is being peeled off.

I have been what is called an expressivist teacher, one who values aesthetic, "creative" writing. This is very out of style these days, if not vaguely indecent and stigmatized.

Current theories of teaching maintain that "writing is a social act," and that phrase is said with the unshakeable conviction of the zealot. There is no questioning or qualification or counterpoint.

That's the deal, and the implications are that student identity, feelings, self-reflection, choice, interest, worldview, path to greater humanity, finding a thread of meaning in an otherwise chaotic life, are either off-limits or exceedingly peripheral to learning to write.

Much more important are the highly abstract elements of audience, purpose, genre, rhetorical situation and how all of these show up in what is called "expository writing," writing that asks little overt participation of the writer as a living, subjective voice.

You could say we are at odds, this brave new world and I. You would be right. So what is a lost, out-dated, vintage misfit to do?

Go back to basics, I say.

Bottom line is writing. Writing. What I want to work on. All else seems superfluous. I need to get this stuff straight in my head. That means reading more, going to poetry events, joining workshops, sending stuff out, getting shit published. And deciding on what to write (it has to have some action, some interest, some kind of thread and tension.) What is that? Possibilities: Literacy story, prison journals, spiritual stuff, romance frustration, loss, unrequited love, ordinary shit about life and place, make something up, what is the line?

Maybe it's time to leave the work world and to lock myself in a room and see what happens. Make writing the priority. Make finding/listening to what it is you are supposed to write a part of your daily business.Put down your thoughts. Straighten them out and do some research. Work with your talents. Commit. Focus. Sustain. Stay on task. Manage your anger. Deal with the energy that creativity produces.

But in the meantime, I have classes to meet, obligations to fulfill. I have a contract.

I will do my best to make good on that, but the brain, she does not want to go there. She is a wild and unruly beast of a heart throb.

Gull dang it. What does one do with a brain that won't listen to reason?

Dream on, dude. Dream on.

That and hit the streets, the angry beautiful places, the prison. 

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