Final Reflection Part II

This semester was a progression of experimentation. We began with the known, the real (?), the (mostly) representational—then moved to where we decide what is real, and the world is at our mercy (even more). Then we entered poetry, where in some ways there is more structure (form)—but in most there is less—if only in the infinite ways one can combine words within the context of poetry without worrying about sentences or grammar—only the feeling one wants to evoke. For me, all three genres had/have something to offer, and also have elements that freeze me up in different ways (though its mostly all the same demon just with different faces). With more freedom comes responsibility, which is a pressure that creates anxiety for me as my mind hollers about how my language is betraying its beautifully conceived ideas; in non-fiction it is reality that my words are compared against (or at least my conception of that).

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a cord one is given taking refuge or visiting a high-ranking Lama called a mind-cord. It’s a piece of string worn about the neck to protect the wearer from their mind. I think the Buddhists are onto something. Our minds are what make us so powerful—give us our imagination, creativity, but also make us so powerful—give us our imagination, creativity, but also our neuroses and psychoses. Though perhaps it can be argued that these are two separate entities—if only conceptually. The gremlin that sits on our shoulder embodying the latter of the two.

This is where emotion, or motivation, and structure enter. If I am excited to write and I don’t think—just let things flow—I have less trouble. Similarly, if such a state is induced by giving oneself up to imposed rules (a writing game), the chances for “success” are also increased. Also, the importance of not just “getting” but internalizing that not every piece must be a masterpiece can only help further.

Final Reflection v.1

So. What was EL170 for me? EL170 was a turning point, for one. It wasn’t until I wrote my creative non-fiction piece that I realized I might actually have sometime to offer as a writer, and that it might be something to consider for my future. The feedback I received on that piece, and on my writing in general caught me almost completely off-guard. For whatever reason, I had never really gotten that kind of positive reinforcement, and had moved-on through my assumed medicority.

However, from my first post my difficulties in writing were evident as well:

As I write I tend to edit, typing — delete — typing… delete. I love to craft the sentences just right, but at times the ideas fail to come. I strain, pulling what droplets I can muster from that hidden reservoir which has decided to close for the day. I see myself filling with anger, frustration, dispair. And so I do something else.

The particular circumstances of this semester were such that I was all the more prone to being slammed with a self-imposed self-perpetuating creativity block (or atom bomb). Some units were easier than others; non-fiction was difficult to find subject matter for, but once I hit on something things flowed… And I had good material. Fiction was just hard all around, and I never really felt like I got it, though I know there is lots more time to figure things out… It was frustrating to work for 3 weeks and feel like I made no real progress as far as my ability to get in the right frame of mind and get excited about what I was going to write. In general, I’ve been faced with the prospect of just writing through a sort of indifference, no matter what the unit. This most obviously takes away much of the fun of writing, unless I’m able to just barrel-on through and hit on something that brings me out.

Unit 1: Digital Stories (Reflection)

The whole process of playing writing games, creating-then-using our PUD’s, workshopping, reading and discussing, and of course blogging allowed my brain soak in the creative juices and loosen up.

The class at its outset was an eye-opener, and as such was immensely energizing. I was, and am still refreshed by how organic and creative this take on the practice of writing is&emdash;as opposed to the more analytical, and I’d say stifling versions we deal with everyday. I guess I had never thought of writing as an art. Once I label it with art, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities that just aren’t allowed for in the traditional definitions.

I very much enjoyed the multimedia aspects of the Digital Story project – it continued to take the traditional definition of writing and dump it on its head, even if seen as just an exercise of that freedom it was worthwhile. Plus it was fun.

Then came Creative Nonfiction, which was a complete revelation/revolution for me. The readings were inspirational–they made me say “Hey, you can do that?! No WAY! I want to try that!” The defining piece was my ADHD perspective-piece, where I tried to use the form and the liberties of creative non-fiction to add another dimension beyond the meanings of the words. Using the structure of the prose, much like one uses structure in a poem, allowed even more creative freedom to shape.

Fiction was a further opening up of my writing perspective, or perhaps field of view; where I could mess with form I could now mess with content, and characters, and anything else I felt like messing around with. With power comes great responsibility, I soon found out, and was often stymied by the overwhelming possibilities before me. Thusly another of my age-old dilemmas resurfaces again. In the end, I was never quite able to kick my short-story out of the rut in which it ended up, but I was still proud of what I’d created, and the process of creating it was transformative to say the least.

I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout ALL of this, is the importance of the process over the product. Being able to distance myself from the “end result”— and so also from any expectation of failure—proved the most effective means of sedation for my writing-gremlins.

EL170 has shown me that writing can be an art, and that writers can be artists. This has been very powerful for me because I’ve always loved art, but was frustrated by my lack of sheer ability in most forms that I tried. For me to realize that something I’m fairly good at—writing—could be approached with an artistic creativity was exciting to say the least.

see part two

Poetry Reflection

I’m still conflicted about poetry—not quite ready to seal my judgment on it yet, which is good since I”m signed up for a poetry class next semester, but still… I never really felt I was able to get into poetry, I was always writing around it, trying to get at things I couldn’t really feel. Most of my day-to-day problems with poetry were similar to those I faced in the other units, but they seemed all the more acute during this unit. I wasn’t really ever able to enjoy writing any of the poems (hm… nope), even if I was satisfied with some of the results, which wasn’t often. Barbara says over and over again that you need to write crappy poems to get good ones, but it sucks when you feel you turn out nothing but crap, and don’t enjoy turning it out in the first place. Anyone can write a decent poem if they spend enough time just writing and writing… isn’t a better success rate what makes a writer a writer? These are all just thoughts, not convictions really, and that’s why I’m not ready to write off poetry just yet (pun intended).

As far as poetry as a medium is concerned, it holds a great deal of promise for me theoretically, as I am very much a “poet” in the sense that I enjoy tinkering with individual words, and am fascinated by the intricacies of writing. I like to read slowly, taking in each word and seeing how it fits with those around it. I remember reading Light in August (Faulkner) in my senior year English class and just loving it— it was poetry masquerading as a novel!!! Beyond that though, I have trouble getting into the form as it is physically–when you isolate things so much it draws that much more attention to them, which increases the pressure to get things “right”— which is my biggest neurosis as a writer.

And I have always enjoyed reading poetry, this unit only furthering that love—seeing other writers getting something “right” is such a thrill, the most basic enjoyment I can get from writing… Identifying.

I have hope that with time and work and effort I’ll be able to bust through this carapace of stuff that is keeping me from writing to my “potential”, and this semester wasn’t exactly a pleasant one in other ways, which only made it that much harder to get into the writing. If only I could take this class again, I’d be much less apprehensive—its just that I can’t imagine this environment being recreated in any other class (another point, but still relevant). So yeah, I still like writing, and I like poetry, though I don’t really see myself as a poet (though I might be, I can’t quite go there yet). So hopefully this rambling reflection makes some semblance of sense.

I Hate Poetry

I hate poetry.
Every word is wrong
Disgustingly simple, cliché
Who do I think I am?
To define a phenomenon
To know you have lied, misrepresented
Or at least,
tried your best and failed
A growling shock of anger,
indignance, despair.
You search for words you know
do not exist.

Fiction Reflection

Much like creative non-fiction, writing fiction has been a transformative, crystallizing experience that served to draw together my scattered experiences in out-of-class writing into a recognizable enjoyment of making stuff up. So, in other words, It showed me that I like to make up stories. The chance to just let loose and see what happened was both terrifying and fascinating (and fun). I like how a fiction work can just go its own way in every dimension, unlike creative non-fiction which must maintain its integrity as a representational work. As I’m sure others have said, and will always say, such leeway is both energizing and paralyzing, especially given my personal tendency to feel overwhelmed by any number of choices or options. However, once I imposed a structure (especially in class writing games, or at least the first one when we did the cafĂ© scene) and was given a shock (in the form of a prompt etc…) my ideas were able to charge ahead fearlessly into the unknown (sort of). Then, of course, I hit another wall upon realizing that the thing had to become a whole coherent story and the block came back. Also, I had lots of trouble trying to get excited about the story, and care enough about the characters to find out who they are etc… But persistence, and emphasis on interactive, verbal planning, as well as just generally self-confidence boosting meetings with BG helped me get over the last hump, to get things out of a jumble and more into the narrative as it wants to be shown. So, I really love the creative, free side of fiction–without this essential ingredient I wouldn’t have enjoyed creative non-fiction nearly as much. But at the same time it can easily be overwhelming, though by writing many “chunks” and then stitching them together the monumental task is made much more manageable, provided the chunks can actually be successfully integrated (see the refuse).

Oh, and I really enjoyed flash fiction. Being able to just zoom alllllll the way in can be really fun, and can make the story take on a cool surreal quality that I really like. (The bit in my short story about the earring getting hot in his ear, or the final scene are both mini-encapsulated flash fictions).

Meta-Cognitive Creative Non-Fiction Essay

Creative Non-Fiction has opened up a new world of writing to me. Though I’d both read and written it before, I had never known it by this name, and I can now see a common thread thread in much of my favorites. The combination of fact and fiction really is the best of both worlds — it has the freedom of fiction combined with the power of facts and their ability to inform and teach and interest. Also, the way many of these writers turn the traditional genre construct on its head is just amazing. They’ve written in ways that have never been done before, and that is just so incredible, to see the world of writing changed forever because of one person. And the works with which they change our ideas of what writing can be are fascinating to read and study themselves. Each piece I read just fills me with ideas, or at least a feeling of inspiration like “I wish I could do that” or “I want to write like this”.

A Response to Unit 1: Digital Stories

For me the first unit was about more than learning about digital stories – it was about creating the el170 space. The digital story then gave me a chance to dive in and get my proverbial hands dirty, truly experiencing the multidimensionality of writing. They helped me break through the assumptions I carry about how writing should be, by turning it completely inside out. Actually, it was more than just the digital stories. The whole process of playing writing games, creating-then-using our PUD’s, workshopping, reading and discussing, and of course blogging allowed my brain soak in the creative juices and loosen up. I’ve found it much easier to withhold judgment while writing, and allow the ideas to flow out and take whatever shape they need to. This has allowed me to create pieces that I never could have consciously forced myself to do.

I feel like now I am creating organically and producing spontaneous pieces that grow on their own without my stifling them. Our process has acted as a foundation for me, providing a sturdy base upon which to build. Like a form of self-hypnosis, I end up tricking my mind into disengaging from its traditional vigilance, and averting its ominous gaze. No longer under such pressure, the ideas are able to flourish unhindered. Then, I can feel good for having accomplished something, even if it is only filling a page of my notebook with words that are pure and natural rather than forced and over-processed.