Saturday, January 3, 2009

Behind the Seen

If I've seemed distant in the past few months, it's because I'm realigning my priorities. Namely, am I going to apply to MFA programs, or not? I took the GRE in September, but that is such a minor factor in the application process--only one school out of the seven I'm applying to even asks for it. The bigger issue for me is writing, building a portfolio. The only completed story I have is what I wrote for my senior paper in 2005. It takes something more than once-a-month flashes of experimental writing to make a portfolio. And here's where my shift came in.

To me, writing is first about observing well, about seeing beneath the surface in people, places, and events. It is about seeing what can't be shown visually. My life consisted of a lot of "to-do's" and what little free time I had was spent in front of the TV or computer. If there's anything redeeming about that, it's that I used that time to observe and think about the stories and people I saw there. But it doesn't translate into written word--the stuff beneath the visual. I had stacks of books I wanted to someday read, and what I was reading wasn't anything I could study for the form and craft of my own persuasion. I needed to drastically cut away from the need to detox on my favorite shows, check email and facebook every day, (as well as the pressure to keep up my blog), and tune in to a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, or Flannery O'Connor, or a blend of contemporary American short stories.

Also, I needed to reformat my social self. As a child I was more withdrawn, more sideline-ish, more observant, but somewhere along the line was told that that wasn't good enough. I should be more conversational, more entertaining, more in-the-moment. I don't regret coming out of my shell a bit, but I see in retrospect where that killed some of the imagination that was born from longer incubation. I lack memories from most of my formative years. Former middle- and high-school classmates recall pronoun songs we learned in English class or who got in trouble for what in 7th grade, and I smile thinking "Where was I?" I know I was there, but I wasn't taking it in; I was inside my own head, thinking of the next funny thing to say, or how I could avoid looking awkward. I'm sure everybody experiences this to some extent, but for me, it never seemed to completely go away. Up until recently I didn't realize I still felt the need to be entertaining, to say the right thing, to always have an answer, to never allow a lull in conversation. I'm learning again to pause, to observe, to incubate, to imagine what might be, to not be afraid of not having anything to say.

So here I am saying it all where anybody can read it. :)

But this is more for me than you.

I'm committing to things less and committing to people more, and not people for my sake--people for their sake. I think each person is wrapped in poetry if I have eyes to see it. I slow down, worry less about how they perceive me, and just watch them. Their eyes, their hands, their mouths. I don't think about offending or taking offense, but seeing into that other layer where dreams and reality mix, where vulnerability shines through. And I'm learning to be vulnerable too. My story characters recently haven't felt real to me, and that's bad for a writer. I learned it's because I keep many people--people that care about me even--at arm's length. I think to avoid pain, mine or theirs. But what is life, what is story, without pain--the contrast of which is the silver lining of grace? That's where I want to live.

So I've started filling out applications, finding references, requesting transcripts, creating new stories, and, most importantly, living behind "the seen."

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful thoughts, Sarah. Committing to people and relationships over things and goals is one of the things that I have learned much about by living in Latin America. It requires a bit shift in perspective sometimes. I would love to read any creative pieces that you draft over the next few months.