author avatar

The Idea of Writing

As I implied yesterday, the act of writing is an act of submission. It means creating a time to look hard in the mirror, to ask questions of oneself that are not always particularly lovely, and to build a space that publicly exposes your thoughts along with all of their flaws.

It means submitting to the laws of time, the gravity of our inherent limits, and the whims of public examination. But I’m going with it because, more than ever, I believe that content (which is really writing, let’s face it), makes all the difference. If we think about humans and websites as analogues for a second, I would submit (yes) that humans without words are like websites without content: both live but they do not work.

For the next seven (yes, 7) days, I’m sticking to the sequential questions posed by the Your Turn Challenge. The first question asked is this: Why are you doing the Your Turn Challenge?

Here is longer explanation.

I graduated college in 1989 with a degree in English Literature and Art. My Honors thesis was on William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is an exquisitely drawn short graphic novel crafted 300 years before the dawn of the graphic novel. It is a mid-length poem, hand-illustrated and hand-printed, illuminated by the artist and the work tackles many subjects all at once: industrialism, nature, the complexity of a universe with and without divinity, and the innocence of children.

That thesis was the longest piece of writing I’ve ever tackled, taking me two years of study. I lived in the Rockefeller Library carrel nearly every day, working, eating, and sometimes sleeping. I designed my life around that thesis and I’m glad I did it.

That was 25 years ago. I have written much since then, particularly on a blog that lasted about ten years, called Deckchairs on the Titanic. But part of my writing problem is that damned (pun intended) thesis. There are three reasons why:

First, and most importantly, my honors advisor wrote it was the best thesis he had read in 25 years of teaching. After reading this in his office, I remember thinking, “How can I ever do better than this?” I have not. I am truly grateful for all of the guidance, cajoling, and rallying my advisor provided. And it is so hard to live up to superlatives.

Second, that thesis was written and produced using the fine-tuned machinery of critical and literary theory. Theory is a way to look at the world contextually as a means of aesthetic production and I built and established my thesis mainly on the building blocks of historians, literary theorists, Marxist criticism, and detailed visual analysis. I don’t discount my methodology or the work that supported my thesis. But it is sometimes hard to find a personal voice in criticism, which is my grounding.

Third, I made a vow after the thesis to never repeat myself. This is a problem because good writing is often about repeating oneself through a variety of expansions, expressions, and extensions. I recognize that this post is not the best written one ever and it sure would be better if I had written something like it before.

The Idea of Writing is easy. But the Act of Writing is hard. I’m taking this challenge because I always believed in the Idea of Writing and now seek to exorcise the activity.

Topics: |