May 14, 2007
On Graduating (for the second time)...or "What I Learned in Graduate Schol"
So it's official... I now (as of May 14th) possess an MFA degree. What the heck I'm going to do with that degree is another story, but its mine all mine!

The ceremony was blissfully short (an hour and forty minutes) and the speakers were... interesting. A fellow grad student presented a speech that is typical of student speeches--look to the future, remember the past, pursuit of happiness and truth, yadda yadda yadda--and frankly was uninspiring and completely ironic soley because the student chosen was from the school of international communication or some such important sounding rubbish and NOT a writer. Apparently, they've never choosen a writer for fear of the sarcastic, exestenialist, anti-authority, feel-good hippy bullshit we are so found of writing. Or so says the scuttlebutt.

Walter Mosley acclaimed novelist of the Easy Rawlings books (such as Devil in a Blue Dress) as well as a memoir and recipient of an Emmy for some work he did with Richard Pryor, was the key note speaker. Dy-no-mite! The man is pure brilliance. I'm hoping that I can access a podcast or whatever of his speech to post here because it is just that inspiring. He basically challenged all of us graduates to let go of our reliance on the past and blaze our own trails. He challenged us to move past the things that bind us and surge forward, and that our destiny is ours and that we should not be so concerned about the things that we perceive as holding us back from claiming our future.

Which lead me to thinking about what it means to be a writer in the age that we live in.

We are not merely creators of fictitious worlds and characters, nor are we static recorders of history. We are, as those before us, storytellers. We are the myth makers, conveyor of events, educator of the people. We are history and pop culture living. We are oral tradition written down. We are the imaginations that inspire real life.

I, for the first time in the barely a year history of this blog, had to censor myself. Suffice to say, I wrote and posted something without thinking about the implications and ramifications of the "published" word. No names were used, but parties took exception to what they perceived as disparaging words. This is not to say that they were wrong in doing so, in fact, I heartily apologized to the offended party for my lack of sensitivity and foresight and sincerely hope that they have truly accepted that apology as my words were not intended as they were perceived. Rather, I realized the extent of the power of words.

I have chosen to pursue a career (because, not matter what you naysayers out there, well, say, writing IS a full time gig) in which not everyone is always going to like or accept what I have to say. There may be instances where they see glimmers and shades people and events within the stories that they feel misrepresent or perhaps too accurately represent themselves. Though this does not excuse me from creating stories in a sensitive manner, it also does not mean that I must (or will) continually second guess what it is I write.

When I am wrong, I am adult and mature enough to take the heat and make an apology. Yet, it becomes a question of integrity in terms of story telling. We learn, as MFA students--and specifically as non-fiction students (which is my "specialty")--that there is a fine line to walk between exposing the truth and telling a story and that the two are not mutually exclusive. A story can not be told for the mere gratuitous telling, to do does not continue the ageless tradition of storytelling. What makes the story viable is the manner in which the writer/teller portrays "characters" and events. To not attempt to explore all sides of a story, to examine what it is to experience this thing we call "human," from a unique perspective of "writer" is to do the craft a serious disservice. Yet, the question remains, does and can a writer run the risk of alienating people closest (or in the near proximity) to them?

The answer is yes. Countless memoirists have done exactly that--written their stories, the very stories that they share with family and friends, and lost those family and friends. Others wait years and years for people they believe will be offended by their story to pass only to be accused of cashing in now that their loved ones can't "defend" themselves. Other writers have published books that are so scandalous that they lose everything, only gaining notoriety after they die. Truthfully, I don't want to be either variety of author. I want to be the kind of author whose friends and family celebrate her career and accomplishment. But on the other hand, I would also like to be published. I'm hoping, that I can be accomplished, published, and loved.

Which brings me back to censorship and the power of words. Words have the power to inspire, hurt, and even kill. Words have the power to incite change, both good and bad, and to convince the masses of right and wrong. Men great and small have been moved by the words of leaders and poets alike.When lawyers build a case, it is not merely the hard, physical evidence that they must consider, but how the words of their closing statement will linger with and move a jury of 12 men and women to either convict or free a man. The NGOs of the world today speak for those that have no voice, and thus their words represent thousand and thousands of faceless masses. Our very country, as powerful as it is, was founded on and continues to be based on a document that consists of words that bind us all together as, ideally, free and equal citizens with unalienable rights. Words, perhaps, are the most powerful weapon on the face of the planet, even more destructive than a weapon of mass destruction.

Even as I write this blog entry, I worry that I may be (re)offending someone. That they may read this and think whatever apologies I have made to them were insincere and false when this is not the case. I would hope that these individuals, or any others for that matter, would attempt to understand that rather what I'm trying to express is the sentiment and idea that writers write, and while they're writing they make every attempt possible to be sensitive to what is and isn't going to affect their readers. Unlike doctors, we don't take any sort of Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Sometimes, I wish we did.

We write the stories, we try to tell the truth or at least a close approximation of it as we interpret our understanding of events/people/place/things/etc., and when we're not writing something strictly truthful (i.e. nonfiction) we're attempting to ground our fictitious stories in the familiar. Some wise instructor (probably a poor writer themselves) once said "We write what we know," even if that story takes place in some improbable world. Writers draw inspiration from everything and anything, and attempt to translate that inspiration into something that is going to amuse and entertain and, if we're really lucky, inform and change some one's life. It's what we do.

I have a choice: I can sit here, afraid of how others will respond, or I can pick up the proverbial pen.

I choose the pen.

posted by Tina at 10:24 PM
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