On "the thing I came for"

Friday, May 21, 2010

The title of my blog, of course, comes from Adrienne Rich's achingly beautiful poem Diving Into the Wreck, which has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in Introduction to Literature during my first year of college.  I'm not a poetry expert, by any means, and I can honestly say that of the four main genres of literature, poetry is the one I'm the least comfortable teaching and discussing.  But there's something about this poem that has always spoken to me, as a writer, as a reader, and as a traveler.  In fact, my first attempt at blogging, the travel blog I started (and abandoned) a few years ago, was also called "Diving into the Wreck."  After two days of debating what to call this new blog--Should I use a pithy quote? Should I just use my name?  Should writing be in the title?--I reread Rich's poem and realized no other name would ever fit quite as well.

In her review of Rich's book, Margaret Atwood (one of my all-time favorite writers) says, "The wreck she is diving into...is the wreck of obsolete myths, particularly myths about men and women." Rich's quest is "the quest for something beyond myths, for the truths about men and women, about the 'I' and the 'You,' the He and the She, or more generally...about the powerless and the powerful." In many ways, this is always the writer's quest.  If, as Horace stated, the purpose of poetry is to "educate and delight," it most certainly is also to discover truth.  Perhaps not capital 'T' Truth, but those small truths that we all take for granted, that it can take a writer to reveal to us.  Those are the moments many readers read for, those little turns of phrase that suddenly enlighten our understanding of some matter, that make us better understand what it means to be human.    

For a long time, my favorite lines in this poem were "I came to explore the wreck./ The words are purposes./  The words are maps."  This was how I saw the writing process, the importance of words on the page.  But my focus on these lines perhaps caused me to underestimate the power of the next stanza:  "the thing I came for:/ the wreck and not the story of the wreck/ the thing itself and not the myth."  The wreck is what separates great writers from great storytellers.  Bookstores are full of books by fantastic storytellers who cannot be called great writers because their stories simply "delight," without revealing any essential truth.  The world needs both, of course.  But what Rich's poem reveals is that as writers, we cannot be afraid to go there.  We cannot be so wrapped up in creating myth and story that we forget the thing itself, what the story is really all about.

And what is it all about?

Rich's poem (and Atwood's review) reveals this as well, although it's something we've known all along--the writer's journey is about men and women, about the powerful and the powerless; it is, in effect, about being human, with all the flaws that come with that designation.

Rich finishes the poem by describing one of the fundamental parts of writing, the process of becoming the character, of becoming the hero of the myth, "the mermaid whose dark hair/ streams black, the merman in his armored body," just as all writers must do, must become the characters, the people who inhabit our stories.  As we are discovering these characters, however, as we are letting them share with us their lives and their truths, we simultaneously must come to terms with the realization that these are not our stories--we have merely been privileged enough to have a small share in them, in these lives and in these myths, "in which/ our names do not appear."


On dreams

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For some time I've considered starting a writing blog, and this summer seemed like the perfect opportunity.  This past year has been a roller-coaster ride for me academically, as I've realized more about who I want to be professionally and that, no matter how successful I am, I will never find personal fulfillment in other people's dreams.  Even as I became more aware of what I wanted, however, I found myself with less and less time to make my own dreams reality.  This was mostly my own fault, for I've always found it difficult to say no--to both people and money.  So this spring, along with taking perhaps my two most strenuous graduate courses to date, I found myself teaching four undergrad classes, all literature, two of which were full of texts I'd never read before.  I also continued to work as an editorial assistant with The Scriblerian and to work with my department's Research Culture Committee, organizing faculty events and maintaining a blog about the work we were doing.  So all of these distractions left little time for what I really wanted to be doing--writing. And reading.  Or, at least, reading works that inspire my writing.  I was certainly doing plenty of reading; reading seemed to eat up every moment of my day.  I was reading for my grad classes or reading for the classes I was teaching or reading for my comp lists--but never reading for me.  So I was never doing the two things I longed to do the most, the two things I realized I wanted to give up everything else to do.

The semester ended last week--final grades have been submitted, my last two seminar papers (EVER!) have been turned in--and now the summer stretches before me, the first summer since high school in which I'll have true, uninterrupted writing and reading time.  Thanks to all those jobs during the school year, I saved up enough money to get me through a couple of months without working, so I gave up my summer class at Auburn and made arrangements to teach in Pennsylvania for six weeks, giving me from June 16 to August 18 off--two whole months to write and read.  Of course, I have to read for my comps this fall, I have conference proposals to write and I have editing to do, but I also have something I haven't had in quite awhile--free time.  Lots of free time.  Free time which isn't really free at all--because I'm dedicating it to those things I've long wished to have the time to properly do.

This blog is about keeping me honest on that quest, about forcing me to write and read even on the days when I'd rather be enjoying the summer sun or watching reruns of my favorite TV shows or sleeping until noon.  It's a way for me to connect with all of those who are enduring similar struggles as they impractically chase their dreams, and it's a way for me to connect with myself, the self I tend to lie to more than tell the truth, the self that always needs a little encouragement, the self that realizes that impossible dreams are the only kind worth having.


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