Friday, September 25, 2009

My feelings swell and stretch; I see from greater heights --Fiona Apple

Well, my first week as a person with a writing blog is coming to end. But first I must post...posting is writing and I must. write. every. day. I can't tell you how challenging it's been for me over the past few days. I feel like I'm back in high school--stuck to a chair all day, my mind wandering all over the place. There have been many false starts inside my word processor--so many paragraphs begun, even finished, but ultimately deleted. But that's more than I was doing last month, or last year...

If you look over at my sidebar there's a link "The precarious state of the American short story" and its got me thinking more broadly about the stories I write. It discusses the (sometimes bad) influence writing workshops can have on writing. As someone who has been participating in writing workshops since I was 13, I can attest both to their pluses and minuses. But I think the larger point of the article is this:

I can say that there's definitely something wrong with the American short story: People don't read it for pleasure, and they don't read it to figure out where we are or who we've become. When newspaper writers need to come up with something literary that says it all - let's say after an act of terrorism, or after a pissy political summer - they head to Yeats (you know, the part about the center not holding), not the contemporary American short story.

Why not? Our imagination is crazier and more feverish than it's ever been. Hawthorne and Poe would have had field days. But, and this may just be me, when I read short stories, it is usually before I go to bed. But when I want a story that pisses me off or causes me to wonder what the hell is wrong with our country and where we're going to go and whether we have a national voice to begin with, I check out CNN's Situation Room. And I turn it right off because I can't handle it. But I stay up all night thinking about the characters: the nut cases, the red-faced pundits shouting one another down, the American soul as an indecisive salted worm.

I think this is an excellent point and one that's going to guide my writing as I tinker away this weekend and next week when I hopefully (no, make that definitely) will be able to have something of my own to post for you. It's true: the news is keeping all of us up nights, and I think every one of us, no matter our political persuasion or our beliefs about where the world is or should be headed, feel a little confused, maybe even a little disappointed right now. I'm not saying I want my stories to be like Law & Order--Ripped from the headlines!--but I do think that we have to think about our stories in terms of their place on the larger spectrum of time. As writers, we do have a duty to tell, at the very least, our own story, whatever forms it may take--through whatever characters and places and memories we can drum up. Perhaps that is the way to enlightenment where being a writer is concerned.

Here's to a weekend of drumming.

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