by Laura Grafham
What the writing life is
is a tree
a deciduous tree.
It is me.
It is college kids with holes
in their closet and clothes.
Dillard says mangrove tough roots
make my pencil into love patterns
on the page,
lovely ink interpretations
of Missus Dee or
All the writers I know
have good hair,
messy, with separate lives
lived out in follicle forests,
conducting orchestras around them
from each scalp possessed.
The difficulty nowadays is not “having enough time to read.” It is having enough time to read without the voices of essays, themes, motifs, and literary technique breathing down my neck.
I read so I can write about my reading later. How can I keep words fresh, something crisp like produce at Pike Place when I do it everyday? If I could stick words into my fridge and keep them all rounded, not self-imploding, till I wanted them, what a wonderful world we’d live in.
These are not our circumstances. We — all of us, don’t lie — bitch about the seemingly menial task of peeling back our scalp skin, pounding keys, pounding our brain for literature’s worldly significance to this sheltered college life. Please tell me that I won’t stay in ivory towers; the street is where the life is at. And my hair’s not long enough to be a rope ladder fire escape.
The eloquent Annie Dillard sheds some light: “You write it all, discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.” (The Writing Life, 7)
What is The Writing Life actually? Hell if I know. I do know in order to get past the two-buck chuck writing I’ve written (and sometimes, often, continue to write) I’ve got to keep writing, delicately balancing on the tightrope wire between earth and insanity.
Join me, won’t you?
By Laura Grafham
“This is one of those literature class moments,” gestures Dr. Doug Thorpe, before pressing play on the boom box waiting with jazz music from the 1910s and ’20s.
The notes dig out deep meanings hidden in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. The classroom, 40 students full, listened, catching sideways glances out the window at the gray afternoon.
For example, does the “I am…” at the beginning of the prologue draw upon the Judeo-Christian Yahweh? Perhaps. But more than that, the voice is confident about his identity. Are we?
“I am an invisible man,” Ellison’s character states, leaving us, the questioning students, left to find out where this invisibility stems from.
He surrounds himself with lights — 1,369 to be exact — wired up from floor to ceiling, surrounding himself by light bulbs underneath the ground in a hole-home he created for himself. He explains to the reader, “without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death.”
Family, friends and strangers often ask me what I plan to do with my English major. This happens with me all the time. My uncle last Thanksgiving asked me this very question, and when I told him I had many plans, he asked if one of those plans included asking “would you like fries with that?” Very funny.
Without giving form to the formlessness, as Ellison’s character tries to do, we’d become lost. I’d become lost. Words perform the same task that the light bulbs do by shedding understanding into dark corners of the world.
I can never fully understand where other people are coming from. It’s frustrating. Words, books, are a feeble but necessary attempt to bridge this enormous gap that can never be fully closed. As long as I can find a really excellent Mandarin or Hindi translator to work with me, all I want to do is add my voice to the literary melting pot.
My roommate, a global development studies major, is plagued with feeling like she can never do anything of great enough consequence that will help people, with inadequacy toward “what needs to be done”. There need to be people like her out there.
The Protestant upbringing in me, the Baptist guilt, tells me much of the same thing, whispers in my ear that I’m being frivolous. You’re reading books? You’re writing? the voices whisper.
Yes, I am. What of it?