It’s never really over

i carry

E.E. Cummings canvas over my writing desk                                Photo: Catherine Keefe

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)

 

I first met E. E. Cummings’ classic love poem as a student in a high school literature class.

What made a significant impact on me, almost as much as that perfect description of profound love, was that in a class where broken grammar rules could cost me a perfect “A” on a paper, I was introduced to a writer who not only flaunted language rules, but was exalted for it. The difference between mistake and craft, I learned, could be intention.

Why would a writer play with language like that? Literary critic Norman Friedman offers a likely answer in E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer: “Cummings’ innovations are best understood as various ways of stripping the film of familiarity from language in order to strip the film of familiarity from the world. Transform the word, he seems to have felt, and you are on the way to transforming the world.”

A writer transports a reader with language, transforms the small world within the walls of our individual human experience into a kaleidoscope as big as the universe of all the possibilities this life might hold. We construct tiny snow globes, lay them on a giant digital shelf and beg anyone to please engage with us.

You hold more power than you can ever imagine sings Sarah Bareilles in “Brave.” All you have to do is “say what you want to say / and let the words fall out / honestly…”

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

That’s another one of my favorite lines from the E.E. Cummings poem,”i carry your heart with me”.

Here is one of my deepest secrets.

I truly hate the end of each semester. I always think I’m forever saying goodbye to you students who I’ve gotten to know through words, both spoken and written. I hate goodbyes and I hate not knowing for sure that I gave you enough. I always wish I had another hour or two, another week or more, to pass along some tidbit of rhetorical technique we never got around to covering. Would you become more effective writers if we practiced spotting faulty logic? Could I have worked harder to find more diverse voices for you to read from? Should I have forced you to remember everything we talked about by adding quizzes to the syllabus?

The end of the semester for me is a torment of “All The Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas” as Shel Silverstein wrote in Falling Up.

“Layin’ In The Sun,

Talkin’ ‘Bout The Things

They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Done…

But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

All Ran Away And Hid

From One Little Did.”

Oh, we had more than “One Little Did.” Actually, it was more like 10,000. Yes, we wrote more than 10,000 words. We read. We crafted. We drafted. Composed. Created. We closely observed how writers use language to write about place. We experimented with poetry and prose, with research and structure and voice. We created manifestos about our beliefs about place and our theories of writing this thing called Creative Nonfiction.

i carry your heart with me

I teach because I believe with the conviction of a person who holds a job with one of the lowest-paying ratios of salary compared to level of higher education, that there is absolutely no better way to spend my days than in the company of young minds on the cusp of taking over leadership roles in government, businesses, medical fields, educational and cultural institutions, and families. At the end of my life I want to honestly say I did all I could to pass along knowledge which might empower and uplift humans, that which might lead to justice and dignity for all.

I teach you because you always teach me. Be persistent. Try more than you will master. Succeed humbly. Be funny. Be kind because someone always has more going on behind their smile than you might ever imagine. Be brave and try something new.

You are one of 19.9 million students enrolled in a degree-granting institution, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics. That number represents the population of the entire state of Florida.

And if you were born in 1994 or later, you’re part of an as-yet unnamed generation. According to a 2008 article in The Boston Globe, writer Joshua Glenn says, ” You’re a member of a generation that’s too young to characterize in any remotely meaningful way.”

You students are as unique as your speaking voice, an utterance so individual that audio voiceprints are as singularly identifiable as fingerprints.

Learning to effectively wield words, using your own unique writing voice, is learning how to construct a reality. Our words transform the world we inhabit.

Consider the possible responses to “What did you see today?”

Nothing.

A bird.

Two Sara Orangetip butterflies leaving a shadow of outstretched wings on the brown dirt of Orange County’s Bell Canyon Trail.

 fluttersWhat I Say Today                                                         Photo: Catherine Keefe

A writer can give you butterfly wings on a path, or a writer can give you nothing.

What will you do with all that power?

 

 

I was here

As you head off into the world to explore somewhere new, think about how your presence might alter the space.

peace

Fall. Peace.     Trabuco Canyon, CA                                        Photography by Catherine Keefe

How does the act of writing create or perpetuate myth about places?

Is there any such thing as an impartial observer?

What of our past do we bring to our present experience?

“Take only memories, leave only footprints,” Chief Seattle once said.
Will you write about memories or footprints?

“I’m eager to explore my new surroundings,” an ENG 103 student wrote.
Will you take the spirit of exploration with you, or approach the experience as a drudgery homework assignment?

Be attentive as you explore.
Be open and curious.
Be aware that your presence will linger after you’re gone.

As active agent, you determine what kind of silk or wool or nubby yarn this experience will become in the tapestry of your life.

Sneak peek

Writing About Place syllabus is almost ready to launch.

Trabuco General Store

Trabuco Canyon, CA             Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

The course is inspired by this Joan Didion quote from The White Album.

“Kilimanjaro belongs to Ernest Hemingway. Oxford, Mississippi, belongs to William Faulkner… a great deal of Honolulu has always belonged for me to James Jones… A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.” Joan Didion from The White Album.

Here’s to figuring out how to claim our place.

 

Seasons

Summer officially cedes to autumn.

Tans fade. Half squeezed sunscreen bottles coagulate with dried lotion and California sun dips on the horizon just enough to cast long shadows during my early evening hike.

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Yesterday a coyote shadow crossed the trail. Chester growled and I stooped to grab a fist-sized rock. At home this morning, slight breeze rustled the wind chime.

Fall feels simultaneously busy and cozy. In class we’re deep in thought and edit. We face shadows which hide real and imagined self truths. We dance between the comfort of staying on the trail of the first draft, the smooth story, the path that leads us to a destination we imagined when we began.  We’re alternately sleepy and thrilled with new knowledge. We’re more tired here in Week 6 than we were in late August, fresh with our newly set goals, boosted by the adrenaline of a new endeavor.

At this point in the semester we begin to glance off road, to wonder what might happen – to us, to our stories – if we leave the trail of comfort and expectation. What if we bump along in the unknown for a while? We face our past patterns with new eyes. We squint into the light of new knowledge and try to capture some essence of this craft of writing we said we wanted to learn more about.

We face the projects, formed by the syllabus, individually shaped by our very own human natures. Some of us are steady. Some of us are more like a tide.

Some writers insist the only discipline is a daily practice. I cannot doubt the value of this. And then I come across an interview with Terry Tempest Williams in the Progressive that opens my mind to a different possibility.

I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer–in hibernation. I write with the bears.

This is a mirror to my own practice, this “sequence to my creative life.” It looks different than the writers who insist you must write every day, you must produce, you must train the brain to perform on demand.

I write with the sea. I write with moon and coyotes and silence.  I write with students. I write in all seasons but there are weeks when I don’t write at all. And I don’t worry about this anymore as long as I meet my deadlines. I love deadline work as much as I hate deadline work because it means I can’t live forever wordless.

Dear students, you tell me the same thing.

So, if you’re stuck, live in the desert for a day or two without panic.

I fully trust you’ll continue. I fully believe in your process.

Every day a beginning –

Every day an end.

rightside up

Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

If I tell you this is Laguna Beach, California you see sunset. If you imagine this as Surfside Beach, South Carolina, you see dawn.

Writers frame with perspective and vantage point, but readers always bring their own unique experience to each literary work.

Readers suspend what they believe they know and journey with the written word, or they fight authorial evidence to maintain equilibrium against the slowing shifting sand of new realities. Sometimes readers don’t pay enough attention to consciously know what happens within. But trust me. Something happens when you read.

What will you read this summer?

What will you write?

The only incorrect answer is nothing.

Give it your best shot…

I respectfully forward you a note from the illustrious editor of Calliope, Chapman’s own art and literary magazine specializing in the work of undergraduates.
Note the deadline to submit is Friday, March 15. Seven days from now. Hurry! Go see what you can dig up.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe
Dear Students,
 
You are invited to submit your best creative work to Chapman’s art and literary magazine, Calliope. Each student is allowed 2 submissions (art/writing, or both) and all majors and class standings will be accepted.
 
Please include titles, writing genre or art form, a contributor’s note (1-3 sentences about yourself/your work) and your work in a word, text, or picture file (no pdfs).
 
FOR ART: Original dimensions and high-resolution quality also required.
 
FOR WRITING: 2,000 words max.
 
Please send all questions and submissions to meetyourmuse.calliope@gmail.com no later than Friday, March 15th, 11:59pm.
 
Sincerely,
Victoria Fragoso
Managing Editor