I realize my last post wasn’t the best way to begin a cyber silent treatment, seeing as it seems like something awful actually did happen to me. It was fine, in fact, last Tuesday we shaved off an hour of our overall work time.
Anyway, this post is about a talk I had with one of my favorite professors last Tuesday, coincidentally. Why is he one of my favorites? He’s Australian, rides a motorcycle, and is basically Gandalf (even has a white beard). Aside from these points in his favor, he’s also full of big thoughts. Even the shortest conversation with him is like digging in a mine and finding precious gems every time. This past chat was no exception.
It was a lunch date (teehee), so we sat across from each other in Alexander dining hall (aka Alex’s), he putting pasta on his fork, and I struggling with a loose and overstuffed vegetable wrap. He started out asking about my thoughts on this year’s freshmen class and then we moved into discussing my return from studying in England.
“It’s weird coming back,” I said. “I feel displaced, like I’ve grown so much and everyone else is the same.”
He’s traveled extensively, so it’s something he could relate to. “It’s something that I’ve found I’ve experienced more and more in my life to the point that I feel that odd displacement even when I come home from work. It’s not a bad thing either, but, as you say, it’s that feeling of a lot of change in a short time without the same degree of change in those around you.”
After a bit, I asked him about his thoughts on feelings of bitterness I was experiencing towards those around me and the superficiality I saw. Here is the Blogger’s Digest version of what he said:
1. There aren’t necessarily superficial people, just superficial relationships.Therefore, as you go through life it’s important to find the people who can relate to you and put as much effort into you as you’re willing to put into them. Keep in contact with them. Grow with them. This is one way you cope with the displacement from growing so much and so fast in various experiences in your life that others can’t relate to.
2. As you grow older you come to realize that most people only value you for what you do, not for you who are as a person. I asked him, “How do you value someone as a person and not just for what they do?” There are three general things he believes it takes: a. patience b. perseverance c. inquisitiveness
Be willing to ask the probing questions about that persons life, which includes both general fact-based questions and those about their thoughts and the “why’s” and “how’s” behind their thoughts. Who, what, where, when, why, and how. Valuing people for who they are AND what they do is important in fostering the relationships with people described in the first point.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Here’s what I think:
1. We’re all displaced persons. As a writer, what does this mean for your characters’ relationships and interaction with the world within the story? How does your character experience displacement and how do you relate to your audience if we’re all displaced? What does your work say about the displaced nature of human beings?
2. It’s important to ask probing questions of your characters both before you begin writing and as you’re writing. Who, what, where, when, why, and how. But it’s also important to ask those probing questions of yourself as you write, not only about your characters, but about the plot, themes, overall idea, etc.
3. Honesty is key. When you’re fostering a relationship with someone and trying to value that person, it takes truth. So, for you as a writer, if you’re going to write, it takes honesty. It’s been said that people read so they know they’re not alone. How can displaced people feel connected if there’s no truth in the written work? What’s a writer without truth?
It’s not just about questions, then. It’s about the answers too.
P.S. I’m starting to write Thomas McNutt again. Classes started, and I got really lazy. But I have a new deadline for this Saturday.