This late into the semester (which ends in 3 weeks!!), I find my schedule cramped with to-do lists, group projects, homework, and not to mention an excessively high accumulation of dirty laundry. Despite my efforts, none of the above seem to be getting accomplished; I find myself remembering what it is like to be a small child with a plateful of vegetables that just won’t disappear no matter how I toss about my fork.
It is usually at this moment that the universe will likely throw in one more twist: I will lose my job; someone I know will pass away unexpectedly; I will find out that I have not signed up for next semester’s classes correctly…any number of small disasters threaten to push my sanity that small step necessary to tumble right over the edge.
When I find myself at this point, I have to remember, “we all work within constraints that define us, hinder us, and teach us what we need to know.” I read this in a book titled Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher, and I think there is an excellent lesson both about life and about writing to be learned in these words.
As the stress in my life builds, I try to concentrate on how it is shaping my perception of the world. I then begin to build the impression, the lesson that I have learned, into something I can share with others. This is not a process that happens overnight, nor does it come naturally. For example, when my aunt passed away, it took me nearly two years to realize that the painful experience had been a necessity in my life. Through my reflections on the experience, I learned to question what it means to know and love someone, to have the right to grieve. These were questions that I did not know I had inside of me until I began to write about the experience, and it was not until my fifth or sixth attempt at writing that these questions became clear to an outside audience. Nevertheless, the result was a piece of creative nonfiction that I feel helps me deal with a personal tragedy while addressing a universal occurrence.
My overall point: one must understand how to take what appears to be a constraint and use it to better understand something about the world. To do this, ask questions of your experiences, and then share those questions. As Arthur Miller said, “great drama is great questions or it is nothing but technique,” and if this is true, then we all have the potential to be great writers.
*Image taken by fdecomite and found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/406635986/