On “Write about What You Know”

Be a complete and utter narcissist in order to write about what you know.  I do tend to write about what I know, just like Lucille Ball in the excerpt below.

Ethel: Hi Lucy. Whattya doing?

Lucy: Writing a novel.

Ethel: What are you writing about?

Lucy: I’m writing about what I know.

Ethel: Oh, but that’s not a novel; that’s a short story!

— From the I Love Lucy episode, Lucy Writes a Novel.

During my first year of graduate school, that’s what I did. I wrote about what I knew. Seemingly, I knew so much! My collection of poetry that year projected the battles of being a surfer girl, the battles of being a waitress, of home-making a home in a surf ghetto, supporting a boyfriend more in love with his band than me and our two large dogs, all the while, somehow, earning my Bachelor’s in English Lit and Professional Education. Don’t ask me how I did it. Don’t ask me how I waited tables, bartended, surfed fulltime and scored high grades all at once. In my first year of graduate school, I wrote sensitively in the context of surf life about feelings of entrapment, sexism and drowning, also about my unending loyal love affair with my dog. And, remarkably, it worked. My stories of piracy, heartbreaks and beach escapades apparently make for twinkling symbolism and responsiveness.

After my first year, then what? Surely, by now my colleagues were sick of this adventure.  Unexpectedly, I accessed another body of knowledge called research. Under the guidance (and genius!) of the marvelous poet and professor, Maureen Seaton, I began a new adventure. Its starting point was my obsessions. Suddenly, I had the time and opportunity to “know” more about the subjects I constantly orbited in a sort of superficial or aesthetic way. Just as I was an expert of my own life, upon fanatically researching and constructing a massive library fee, I became an expert in stuff I love (historical anecdotes, facts, dates even! Etc.).

Inevitably, I found that everything “I love” branches from my self. I find that in order to know more, I must know my self very well. It seems that I, like many of my students, required a sort of assignment or enforced task in order to dedicate focus fully onto my self. Once I discovered that my life and my obsessions actually reach into the past (as research) and the future (in the form of my own experiences), I have realized that I will never run out of “things I know” as long as I shamelessly spend solid time with my self. Yes, this can be very scary. Unlike other interests which arrive pre-approved by the media, the interests that germinate only from my self are not pre-approved and can be accompanied by ecstasy and pain, both of which can exalt original, authentic writing (as well as many times, catharsis).

Just as I needed my professor to assign the tasks of self-discovery, to approve the self-absorbed process, I am fully aware that my students require this too. They need to know that it is acceptable and in their favor to discern their selves, apart from how many “likes” they may receive on Instagram or Facebook. Here’s a cheesy concluding line: You have my approval to spend time with your self, to acknowledge your, however strange, obsessions, to ask your self questions you have never asked your self before, to be a complete and utter narcissist in order to keep writing about what you know.



Heavy Writing Habits

I hate waiting. I find myself growing more and more impatient while I wait, literally, while I wait for anything. I might be waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting for an email response or waiting for a page to load. I know; I’m spoiled. In Costa Rica, I could barely stay in contact with folks back home because to send an email, via dial-up, there was agony, especially when an infinity of good waves was rolling in just outside the local media hub. If I post on Instagram, and it takes more than a second to load, a breeze of annoyance brushes my brain. I grew up with dial-up. How impatient are my students? They must be far more impatient than me.

In this context, I teach writing. How can I expect them to analyze a journal article? How can I expect them to write a full sentence on other sentences? I imagine they wonder why they can’t write a response paper as a post on Blackboard.

Ironically, as impatient as I’ve become, I am still a writer, a poet. I like writing poetry because instead of using words to create sentences, I use words to create quick images and emotions. I think, my poetry functions like a post! An edgy, highbrow poet, Walter Lew, introduced me to the speed of multi-media poetry, in particular, Young-Hae Chang’s Heavy Industries  http://www.yhchang.com/. These pieces are faster than posts or Instagrams. The words and phrases flash before the viewer/reader. The works are cerebral, poetic, musical and competitively fast-paced, an actual challenge to the contemporary college student’s mind. These pieces transcend beyond the realm of reading, into the realm of experience or personal incident. There is no time for notes; there is only time for encounter and reaction. Multi-media work such as a Heavy Industries piece will enable automatic critical thinking and provide an enticing entrance to a writing response, as demonstrated by my own response:

Choosing a Heavy Industries piece to write on is like choosing a butterfly wing to film. Butterfly wings can all be described and categorized closely. Each wing flaps extraordinarily fast. Each wing depicts bright shapes. Each wing evolves in the same way. Though each wing has comparable traits, like a Heavy Industries piece, a butterfly wing is also unique and different from all the rest. How did I select Beckett’s Bounce? I chose it the same way I would the wing: favoritism. Arbitrary and without science, favoritism can powerfully impose division and structure. Indeed, of the poems I watched and listened to, Beckett’s Bounce is my favorite.

Beckett’s Bounce is a flurry of surreal and erotic occurrences, yet unlike the other pieces I viewed, amidst the disregard for reality, Beckett’s Bounce conveys a linear almost plot-like structure. The chronological sequence includes a transaction of poetic flattery, a nonstandard sexual escapade, and an afterglow ending. If one decides the piece is dreamlike, it may be assumed that this is the speaker’s subconscious idea of fun: a romp in a brothel with a favorite writer.

Though it carries the burden of story throughout, it does not stray from the Heavy Industries blueprint. The piece remains loyal, displaying rigorous synchronism with jazz music, depicting words and phrases that eventually develop into sentences and then complex ideas. Young-Hae Chang’s style does not allow the viewer/reader/listener time to think or react or analyze. The words are flashed extraordinarily fast to the beat of music. One is daunted by the task of holding on for their life just trying to catch the next phrase. This turns Beckett’s Bounce into a legitimate experience, as real feeling as a thick dream deep in the night. There is no time to think, “Hey, Beckett’s dead,” or “Hey, he never drove a cab,” or “Hey, how do you know he liked to chomp on a prostitute’s ass.” It is what it is, and like a dream that one helplessly sleeps up, it is unstoppable and nearly real.