Writing Who You Are


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As part of my degree in English Literature, which as we all know is a highly sought after major by businesses far and wide, I was required to take a course in Literary Criticism.

LIt Crit, we called it, and only juniors and seniors could enroll. The resident homo-erotic-passage-finding, Alfred Hitchock aficionado (whom I only after graduating could begin to appreciate for his wit and kindness) taught the class. Something wry and punishing lurked behind his eyes when he challenged our ideas. It seems clear to me now how much he liked that class.

To this day, I do not know how in the world I managed to get an A, because I had zero idea what we were discussing on any given day. We read Foucault, Arnold and Kant. We read other stuff, too, (none of which I remember) and I diligently highlighted passages so I could pretend to follow along in class, as we sat around a long oval table at the end of the hall of the English department.

Deconstructionists, Maxist-feminists and the like clouded my head. But apparently, I have some mad acting skills, because I aced all my papers and the final. Again, no idea.

As grueling as the reading was, I savored the challenge. These were, to the nice, little church girl, some wild ideas that at the same time seemed to have been residing in my head since I brought my first “for fun book” home from the library.

I was both shocked and elated to see that people—smart people—had been hashing out the construct behind our words for centuries.

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For a long time after my first book was published, I had this sort of guilt. Most of the blog friends I have are strong Christian believers who write with eloquence and conviction ABOUT our faith. But, I don’t really do that. Not regularly, and perhaps not with as much of their facility. And so I hemmed and hawed, and I worried, and I putzed.

***
Between soccer games, laundry, running and cooking and playing and writing this weekend, I carved out some time to dive into my backlog of New Yorker magazines. I spent a good few hours on the sofa in repose, reading words about former CIA agents, bipolar feminists who died poor and alone, about movie stars and rap stars. I read about Basil Twist, the puppeteer and only American graduate from the elite puppet school in France whose name in longer than this sentence.

Basil Twist started out trying to fit himself into the kind of box that junior high and high school prescribe. You fit in, you keep your head down, you do your work, and you, above all else, appear to be just like everyone else. Basil soon tired of this facade and began experimenting with puppetry in brand new ways. He is now world renowned, and commissioned by Broadway and Hollywood as well as designing his own works.

***
What does the puppet dude have to do with Marx again? I’m so glad you asked.

As I read through multiple issues on different people in different arts, and as I studied the sentence structure of myriad writers, I came to recognize a few things. One, on any given day I can fluctuate, as a reader between a Deconstructionist, a structuralist, or a feminist, or some kind of wild combination of the three. (I believe this is one of the reasons why writers are urged to read as much as we write.)

Two, there is, to skew the phrase, more than one way to skin a a book as a reader. Moreover, there is more than one way to skin a book, as a writer.

Basil Twist did what we must all do, whether artists, accountants teachers or engineers. We must step on the path that is ours. Mimicking Twist is a nice compliment, from one puppeteer to another, but it is also a feint, a way for the mimicker to assume someone else’s ideas or voice, which makes his effort less authentic.

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I don’t worry about not being a Jesus writer anymore. There are plenty of others out there who are doing just fine without the addition of my voice. I don’t worry about being feminist enough or controversial enough or whatever enough. And thank goodness, for this is indeed a liberating thing.

Like any good deconstructionist-marxist-fascist-structuralist, I can only write what I can write. (Just as when I run races, I can only run my miles, my race, my way.)

How do you, reader and writer, answer the questions of how, why and what?