I always have these moments when I feel highly inspired. Yet when I actually sit down to write or go out to take photographs, I deflate. The juices were flowing, the moment was there, and then when it comes time to take action, I find myself completely void of the ability to express what I want. Or I have my senior year (of high school) English teacher whispering in my ear that if there was a cheese-o-meter in writing, I would bust the damn thing. And the thing is, it’s true. I am overly wordy, or I always try to make something extremely poetic. Whatever happened to the iceberg theory?
I had a teacher in college that I loved. He was a professor in the religious studies department, though he often used literature and film to punctuate his lectures. He was a man’s man and definitely wasn’t afraid to praise and praise again literary heroes like Hemingway and J.D. Salinger. In one of my classes we read “The Old Man and the Sea” and my professor, Jay Holstein, introduced us to the iceberg theory. He said that Hemingway wrote only the bare minimum. What we read on the page was the top of the iceberg, the things that were visible. But the mass of important information was beneath the surface. Hemingway would give us important information, but in the end, the readers would be detectives and connect the clues. It was a way to promote interactive reading. And it was a way to encourage frequent re-reads, and it always allowed for a new interpretation. Apparently my writing is anything but an iceberg.
Lately I have been very introspective. And when I say “lately” I mean the last few months. The common thing now is to have a mid-twenties existential crisis. Think of it as the mid-life crisis but before anything solid begins to happen. I went to school for creative writing. I chose Iowa because the Writer’s Workshop was there, though it was a graduate program. I thought that some of its power and prestige would bleed through to undergraduate classes. There were some seminars I took where the teachers encouraged their pupils, but then there were others that acted as if they preferred being anywhere but teaching a bunch of naïve undergrads. In these seminars and workshops we would read one another’s work and have to give constructive criticism. I would read these short stories and poems and think I had no place among these people. Not because I was too good for them, but the complete opposite. I thought that these students had beautiful narrative voices, they had intriguing ideas for short stories, and were able to follow through. You see, I cannot, for the life of me, create a solid arching plot. If I can start a story, I have an issue ending it. Or vice versa. The thing I believe I excelled at was narrative non-fiction. I think in general non-fiction suits me better. My writing in high school was for the school paper. It came naturally to write opinion pieces or 400 word count articles. For as much as I loved fiction, I just was not creative enough. All characters were some faction of myself. Though I do love some first person stories, I oftentimes believe they are childish, or the easy way out.
I took a non-fiction writing class when I was a junior in college. I had one of the most outstanding teachers. He was a student in the graduate non-fiction writing program. His fiancé was a linguist who taught at the university. His name was Brian Goedde. I believe he was one of my best teachers ever. He was encouraging and he gave actual constructive criticism, rather than “this is bad, move on…” We spent a couple of weeks on creative non-fiction, and for the assignment I decided to write poetry. He told me that I had one of the most unique voices he had ever heard/read. Apparently my over-use of adjectives was a benefit for poetry, though there was one poem that he recommended I read so that I could fine tune my “iceberg” writing: “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. It’s a brilliant piece of poetry. It is a poem that I go back to when I feel like my writing may need encouragement.
I have ruminated on my writing, and writing in general, lately. I have thought about influences and muses. How there are certain events that encourage it, but also there is sharing too much. Memoir has become a popular genre of late. There have always been biographies and autobiographies, but memoir is a different monster. Rather than giving factual accounts, they are often more creative. They expand upon a certain aspect of a person’s life. The most common memoirs are those written by addicts about their drug abuse, or written by the people who have been around addicts. I am not going to lie, I find those memoirs the most interesting. There is a part of me that relates. Have I ever been addicted to something (other than coffee)? No. But I feel like I can understand the beast that hides behind their actions. It is my honest belief that addicts are in all of us. Maybe not everyone’s addict craves mind and mood altering drugs, but they crave an action. Who says people can only be addicted to hard drugs? What about watching too much T.V.? The compulsion to always eat a certain thing? Drink a certain thing? Behave a certain way? Some people have a tighter leash on their monster, but it still exists.
One of the biggest debates with addiction is the disease concept. I believe there is some truth in it. I do not think addiction is simply a moral disillusionment. I do not believe people should blame addiction on negative events in the past or not having good parents. I think there is a switch that once flicked may make it harder for people to stop the destructive behavior. Do I think that gives them a free pass? No. Not at all. I think it is simply another obstacle that people should consider when working through and with their addiction. And that is all I will say on that. This has been a slight diversion.
The intent was simply to discuss writing. To think on developing a narrative voice, and the ability to hold a reader’s attention. The variations of story and genre, and how narrative voice is developed through study. And lots and lots of reading.