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.