Making Words Harder

I’ve been thinking about the Thomas Mann quote Barbara used on her overview of the class sheet: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult.” Besides being a superficially funny commentary on the torturous nature of the writing process, the quote rings true not because writers are less intelligent or inherently slower than other humans, but because they themselves make writing difficult. And not necessarily more wearisome, although exhaustion plays a role, but more complex. Writers look at words and refuse to take them for face value. They like to probe language and stretch it to its limits, like pulling panty hose onto a particularly plump thigh.

This past year I’ve been really into poetry, and sometimes I think it’s the most miserable pursuit in the world. Because sometimes language just doesn’t want to budge and all I can capture are the echoes of things written before me. But sometimes you find a secret passageway into the abyss of language, a tear in the fabric, and you have to let yourself fall into it and get totally jumbled around. That’s what I loved about Barbara’s class; she forces you to find the new passageways into language, but she never leads you all the way there. Finding a newness in the words and sounds we encounter everyday is a tricky and ultimately delicious task. And making words more difficult- by challenging them, testing them, turning them on their head- leads to surprises. It’s not as if our lives need to be any more complicated, but only by complicating language will we arrive at any sort of insight.

So there’s my writing shpeal, and now onto me: I am a senior English major who just finished four weeks of the most academic literary analysis possible during English comps and who now wishes to undo the stiffness of that formal treatment of language and return to, how Barbara puts it, the language in my body and my surroundings. And more importantly, I am someone who will love reading forever and ever and I am thrilled to get to read some of your work. The last book I read was “Norwegian Wood,” by Haruki Murakami, and I’d highly recommend it as a book you could even read during the semester because it is very accessible and relaxing. I became Murakami’s narrator while I was reading it and I even zoned out so entirely that I didn’t notice a conversation my friend had with a police officer right next to me on the subway. I guess you could say I’m 100% book nerd.

Get excited for a great semester, but also, as Alex mentioned, be very, very afraid. There’s no telling what you’ll dig up from the dusty recesses of your subconscious. More importantly, let go of what you’ve been told your whole life. And, despite Barbara’s challenging and rigorous agenda, please don’t be too hard on yourself.

Welcome to Hell

Juuust kidding (mostly)… But I couldn’t resist, Katie’s post is a hard act to follow.

Rather than rehash the points Katie made (alright fine: take risks, blog with reckless abandon, deconstruct what you think you think you know about writing, and have fun doing it!) I’ll give a bit about me as a writer, and what I see as my role in the upcoming epic journey that will be EL 170 ENAM 170, Spring 2008. Your voyage will be as epic as any expedition, complete with insurmountable obstacles and rewards beyond one’s wildest dreams. Wait, we’re still talking about writing?

BG has told me many times that we are trained from our first days in school in how to write, which includes an implicit, insidious defining of what writing means. One of the things that make BG’s intro creative writing class so unique (and scary, painful, stressful, wonderful, rewarding, insightful, transformitory) is how it send a few healthy shudders through that so-carefully-constructed foundation by exposing writing as a wonderfully amorphous beast. You will reassess your relationships with truth, story, structure, narrative, sentences, and most of all, words.

For me, writing is bittersweet. It has provided me with hours of gremlin-induced block, as well as blissfully hypergraphic marathons (oddly, these tend to occur from 1-2am in the library café. And always hand-written on blank white sheets of paper). When the dust settles, and I sit back to look at what has been squeezed, at times drop-by-drop, from my stubbornly guarded (those writing gremlins are fierce) brain, the rewards are infinitely greater than any suffering I may have had to endure. You could say writing and I have a love/hate relationship (hence the irony). While most of you hopefully enjoy writing, and this is why you have come, I imagine even the most blissfully creative have moments of scalp-clutching frustration (if not, then I hate you a little bit (just kidding)). I guess the fact that I’m not only still writing eagerly, but now tutoring is a testament in itself to the magic that is 170.

Writing is also a means for exploration. I am a firm believer that for writing to be powerful, the writer must learn something in the writing. Not what you know, or even what you wish you knew (though those are interesting), but what you are afraid to explore. Much of my writing has been blatantly introspective; a result of my having stuff I wanted to explore (for me), stuff which also happened to provide damn good material (for a reader, ostensibly). Yet even the most impersonal non-fiction narratives can utilize this scheme; the author puts oneself into the piece, and grows by diving in — exploring the places of which they are most afraid, taking the reader along for the ride.

I’m excited to be able to accompany you on this ride — watching you all blossom into butterflies of wonderful writingness (what? this is what happens when you play too many writing games)(or for those who have already taken flight, providing for further growth). I echo Katie again, on all counts in this department. I can’t wait to get to know you all as people and as writers, to learn from you, and to provide a space for constructive, supportive, but merciless revision.

Wonderful ME: I’m a senior-feb-geographied-metalhead-photographer-writer extraordinaire. I like creative non-fiction, poetry, and mashing the two together until you can’t quite recognize what you’ve got. I speak decent Mongolian. I am perpetually amused and/or annoyed by the absurdity of the world. Oh, and I live in Weybridge House. Come down for dinner some time for some veggie-organic-local-homecooked culinary goodness (Monday-Thursday, 6:30pm).

Welcome to the motherblog!

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the blog! If your first day in Barbara’s class was anything like mine, you’re probably wondering right about now, “What, exactly, have I gotten myself into?” I was that girl two years ago — the one who believed full-heartedly that creative writing just wasn’t my bag. When Barbara cast her eyes around Coltrane Lounge, rooting out the feeble hearted, I wanted to raise my hand, sheepishly admit that I’d made a mistake, and scuttle off to a sensible, predictable seminar. History, I thought. Ecology, maybe.

But something (dumb luck? a little providence?) kept me firmly tucked in my shabby, overstuffed seat. Under the watchful eyes of John Coltrane and Company, and with the heater rattling and clanking in the corner, I resigned myself to what I was sure would be a horrifically uncomfortable semester. In the end, though, the decision to take this class was possibly the best decision I’ve made in my time at the College. Thinking back on my semester in 170, I can’t help but be incredibly excited for all of you embarking on this journey. You’re in for quite the ride.

If you’re wondering what, exactly, you’ve gotten yourself into — that’s entirely up to you, as I’m sure Barbara’s told you by now. Your personalities as writers will determine the shape of the semester. I can only encourage you to make the most of your time together. Dive into blogging — it takes a little getting used to, but it’s one of the most dynamic and exciting elements of this writing community. Throw yourselves into those in-class writing exercises. Take risks. And take advantage of each other, Barbara, and us tutors. A community of people who love writing, who collect and cherish words, is a dear thing.

I am excited and grateful to be sharing this semester with you. I’m looking forward to joining in your writing endeavors (I’ll be blogging right alongside the best of you!) and helping in any way that I can to make this semester a meaningful one. Don’t hesitate to fire off an e-mail if you’re looking for coffee, advice, commiseration about writers’ block (or ENAM 170-phobias!), anything at all. My kettle is on and my door is always open, and I can’t wait to get to know all of you.

Hold on to that shabby, overstuffed chair in Coltrane Lounge for all it’s worth. I promise you won’t regret the decision.


(A little addendum, since Maddie and Alex both talked a bit about themselves as writers. I’m an ES/Nonfiction major, which means — I like science, and I love words. I’m writing a senior thesis right now about western explorers, the Olympic peninsula and whaling — go figure — that, in spite of my best efforts to direct it otherwise, is insisting on morphing into a manuscript of poems. [Yikes.] I’m also the editor of the newspaper, so when I’m not immersed in my own creative writing I tend to be tucked away in Hepburn basement agonizing over computer failures, missed deadlines, story ledes and editorials. I was at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference last summer writing nonfiction, which only further confirmed my belief that a community of writers is the most fulfilling sort of community you can stumble upon. I live in town these days, over Taste of India, and my adorable, ramshackle living room is always open to wayward writers looking to amble off campus and chat for a spell. Come visit.)