THANKS to social media, former students keep in touch. One of the subjects frequently raised is writing.
Although their careers have taken off, the writing they once carried out regularly—oppressively, too, as I once handled 7:30 a.m. classes and am inflexible with deadlines and rewriting—catches hold of them again.
Some wonder if they can go back to writing again.
The “again” punctuates their thoughts like a lead sinker. The qualifier embraces many possibilities but this one seems to apply to my former students: can I write again even after not writing for many years?
As my semester as a student draws to a close, I realize a deeper anxiety can yawn under someone who writes for a living: can I write what I have always wanted to write?
Yes is the answer to both questions.
Commenting on “Letters Home,” which published nearly 400 of Sylvia Plath’s letters, written from her years as a college freshman up to the final days leading to her death by suicide, the poet Adrienne Rich wrote: “What comes across in these letters is a survivor who knew that to be a writer means discipline, indefatigable commitment, and passion for hard work.”
Of writers writing about writing, Eudora Welty’s “One Writer’s Beginnings” lingers.
The slim volume collects three lectures the fictionist delivered at Harvard University in 1983. The book is organized into “Listening,” “Learning to See,” and “Finding a Voice”.
Immediately, on the first paragraph of the first section, Welty answers obliquely the self-doubts that plague writers by opening with, “In our house on North Congress Street in Jackson, Mississippi, where I was born, the oldest of three children, in 1909, we grew up to the striking of clocks.”
The power of reminiscence to guide the writer is clinched at the close of this perfect paragraph: “It was one of a good many things I learned almost without knowing it; it would be there when I needed it.”
“Writing by not writing” is a technique used by writers to hoard material, sharpen skills, or refresh inner resources.
As my professor, the poet J. Neil Garcia, said at the start of poetry workshops: you cannot write if you have not read. Rich, Plath, and Welty grew up in “bookish homes”.
Reading is a pleasure to be enjoyed for its own sake. Yet, caught up in it, one comes into the presence of the unspeakable.
The desire longing ache to shake loose from what also bound the limbs of Lazarus before Jesus summoned him to come forth from the grave can only end when one writes.
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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 5, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”