Long before I even considered writing memoir, I stumbled upon Dani Shapiro’s book Devotion: A Memoir and I couldn’t put it down. She writes with such honesty as she explores her relationship with her son and husband – I finished the book in a day and still felt hungry for more. Luckily, I came across her blog “Moments of Being” and was able to get my fix. Although she doesn’t post as often as I’d like, she uses her blog to explore her writing process. I find is really comforting that someone with numerous books and awards feels some of the same things that I do. Lately, I’m really battling with what it means to be a writer. I’m really struggling with the concept of a “writers work,” and I am fighting to give myself permission to be a writer – even if that means I never get published or paid of the work that I do. Anyway, it is becoming more obvious to me that I need to rekindle my passion for writing. Dani’s latest blog post gave voice to some of the feelings that exist inside of me. She writes:
“Every single day, the writer begins again. When we wake up in the morning, when we roll out of bed, brush our teeth, splash our faces with cold water, make the coffee, the toast, pack the sandwiches into lunch boxes, bundle our children off to school with the proper mittens and hats and sports attire and homework, when we wash the dishes, make the beds, answer the emails, walk the dogs––until the moment when we finally sit down at our desks, we are preparing to begin again. We may be halfway through a novel, an essay, a story, a memoir. We may be nearing the finish line on a piece of work that has taken us years. We may, in fact, be attempting to start something new. But wherever we are within our work, we have never been exactly here, today…read more”
A few weeks ago, I had a dream that my students discovered my blog. One of them, the loud one that makes me laugh on the inside (because laughing aloud would be encouraging him), read certain passages to the entire class. Everyone pointed at me and laughed. If I were a student, I could’ve run away, but I was the instructor – there was nowhere for me to go…
I woke up in a cold sweat: what if my students actually read my blog? What would they think? What would they know for sure? I promptly privatized my Twitter account, and then started to wonder what my students would/could learn from reading my blog. Would it be the worst thing in the world for my students to discover that their writing teacher was actually a writer in her spare time? Probably not.
Here are a few things I’d want them to discover:
1. Writing is Brave: So many of the essays my students write are written for me. I don’t mean that they are written because I assign them; I mean that students often draft papers that express ideas they mistake as my own: they tell me what (they think) I want to hear. If my students read this blog, they’d understand that real writing (even academic writing) is exposure. To say something w/o knowing how it will be received is very brave. You are taking a position on something, you are inquiring about or analyzing something – you are daring to do battle with the ideas that live inside of your head. It is a brave act to turn the whispers in your head into words that live on a page. Writing is a form of vulnerability.
2. Words are permanent: Once you write them (especially on the world wide WordPress), they live outside of you for other people to see (and Google). You must stand behind the things that you are brave enough to write.
3. Audiences are writers too: My students often write prose for me, but they don’t realize that the words that they use are being interpreted. My favorite question is: what exactly are you trying to say? See, you write something, BUT I read it I analyze it, I run them through my own imperfect filter and derive meaning from it. The reader is a collaborator. That doesn’t mean that you should write for your readers, but you should understand that what you write on paper cannot be controlled.
4. The classroom is just the beginning: Here I am, blogging. I am blogging about my book. I am writing a book about men and religion and God. This means I’m reading articles, I’m studying philosophical implications about religion, I am interviewing interesting people, and I’m talking a lot. Oh yea, and I’m writing. The seemingly boring composition skills that I try to impart to my students are just training wheels – once they get riding, they can use research and composition to look at anything they want – anything.
5. Words are powerful: This is pretty self-explanatory. There are few things I love more than words; especially the words people take time to write down.
6. People are more than just one thing: I may or may not be an English instructor, I may or may not be a tutor. I may or may not be: a woman, a black person, a Long Islander, a former stripper, a pirate, a psychologist, a reality TV addict…and so on. If by some chance a student reads my blog, they’d see a side of me not often available to them in class, and although it would be mortifying – it would be okay. People are more than just one thing. There is no such thing as a flat character. Once you’ve learned that, I suspect, you’re halfway to becoming a writer.
One last thing – I’d want my students to know that there’s no such thing as a perfect/finished draft. Proofreading doesn’t catch everything, and well…teachers make typos too.
What do you think people (students, writers, readers etc.) can learn from reading?