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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

700 PAGEVIEWS!!! / The Self as Content

This post serves two purposes:

1)  WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  700 PAGEVIEWS!!!  I can't believe it!  Signing into my blog inadvertently inflated the number to 701, and it's probably safe to say that the number you see has 85% to do with my activity alone, so perhaps I have no reason to celebrate...but I will anyway.  :)

2)  I wasn't sure if I wanted to go delving into my own philosophies on the writing process or anything, but there was something I thought I might address since it was brought up in confidence during a workshop for my story, "A Private Room in Rosewood."  I haven't published it here, primarily because it is a much longer piece and because it is, as of this post, unfinished.  However, there was something that I was called out for in this story that has roots in where I started out as a writer, and that was my use of " the self as content."  In other words, I used myself as content (in the form of a character) in this story.

Using the self as content, especially when not veiled particularly well, can be seen as a sort of "cop-out" on the part of the writer, or as a sign that the writer is arrogant, conceited, full of himself/herself, has an inflated ego, etc.  I can completely understand this mindset; matter of fact, I'm in a class right now at NKU called Revolutionary Poets and Artists, and some classmates of mine accused Walt Whitman of arrogance about his use of the self as content, especially in the way he made himself the voice of everyone in his poem, "Song of Myself."  They made their points quite eloquently, and speaking from the perspective of a student who struggled to condense this 52-section poem to 23 pages of still-readable, printable pages, I can see where it would be easy to slice Whitman's throat on that point.  It is quite easy for a reader, especially one who is not familiar with the writer at all as a person aside from knowing the writer's physical appearance, to see their use of this practice as a sign of vanity.  It's completely understandable.

However, I believe there is another way that this can be interpreted.  I believe a writer's use of the self as content can be an indicator not necessarily of ego, but rather a sign of their contentment with who they are as a person...perhaps even a celebration of who they are.  That, to me, doesn't seem like such a negative thing, although making it seem this is the purpose to a reader, especially one being forced by insane teachers to study your work with a fine-toothed comb and a magnifying glass, is tough...nearly impossible, even.

Playing with the self as content is something I've done as early as elementary school.  I really started to blossom as a writer in second grade after writing a story about the event people in my region know as the "Great Flood of '97," a story for which I won a Young Author's Award from NKU.  It was in third grade that I really took off as a writer, writing what could essentially be dubbed fan-fiction based off of my favorite video game franchise, Mortal Kombat.  The only difference was I was using good friends from class (including girls I had crushes on) as characters, as well as myself as the main hero (for the record, I based myself off of my favorite MK character, the Thunder God Raiden).  Back then, I figured if I could make it happen and write myself and my friends in as the people who saved the day, then what was stopping me from doing it?  I was a third grader; I didn't care.  I wrote stories in this mold all the way until 7th grade, and I only stopped because the focus in writing slowly shifted away from the creative to the personal/reflective/scholarly.  I think this shift was actually a significant factor in my becoming so introspective, something else that has greatly factored into my use of the self as content, but I'll elaborate on that a bit later.

Finally getting the chance to write creatively in the classroom again in the fiction genre, I realize that stories in the fashion I used to write would no longer be looked at so favorably.  I'm no longer writing for childhood classmates; I'm writing for adult classmates and whoever else I think might want to hear me.  I'm a decade older, extremely conscious of death and mortality, and afflicted with Crohn's Disease.  The self as content has taken on a brand new meaning for me.  I found that with "A Private Room in Rosewood" I wasn't writing to make myself a hero, I was writing as a form of catharsis more than anything.  My character, which I named Silas, was me with very subtle differences.  He wore a "boss of the plains" style black hat with a high, round crown, and was at a crossroads in his battle with Crohn's Disease, a stage I fear might become a reality for me.  Most people afflicted with this condition will require major surgery in order to maintain the quality of their lives, and most will often have to have major sections of their intestines removed and what's left routed out their sides into colostomy bags.  The mere thought of this happening to me frightens me beyond words.  I've often wondered how I would react to such news, whether I'd be willing to go through with this operation or whether I'd try to run from it, perhaps even choosing death over the chance to prolong my life with such a radical procedure.  It's caused me to question what exactly defines "quality" in a life, and being an introspective person it's something I've spent countless hours debating in my mind.

It is my introspective nature that causes me to wonder whether the self as content is something I'll always employ in my writing.  I think every writer puts some part of themselves into their own writing, but the question for me would be whether I'm as blatant about it as I have been in the past.  In my introspection, I often find myself exploring various scenarios, some that have happened and others that could potentially happen but haven't, and insert myself into each scenario in a particular role and play out how I would act in my mind, right down to every single word I would say and what would be said back to me by others in the scenario with me.  Think of it as improvisational actors upon a stage being given a scenario and roles, and being told to play it out.  That is essentially how it works within my mind.  It is introspective moments like these where my mind seems the most vivid, where I get lost the deepest, and they are moments that seem to strike me on a nightly basis.  In some strange sense I can't even begin to logically explain, I almost feel bound to use myself as content due to my introspective nature, because this is where the well seems deepest.

Could I change the outer appearance of my "character self" to veil the fact it's me?  Certainly.  I suppose I could...but part of me wonders why I would even bother.  I could change the outside to mask my blatant use of me as a character, but it strikes me as a superficial thing to do.  Voracious scholars would see through it...that is, if I ever became a writer worth studying.  The same people who call me on such things, the ones that know me, would still be smart enough to see it.  I don't see it making a tremendous difference with readers, because only two people in my Fiction Writing class called me out on it and they were people who knew me outside of class; the rest all got a good look at me, hat and all, and should probably have made this connection for themselves in their reading, yet didn't call me on it.  I would think my appearance alone would be enough to tip someone off.  Were they just that dazzled by my craft, by my awesome wordsmithing skills?  I doubt it.  XD

Poets threw out meter and rhyme in favor of free verse because they felt those constraints were too limiting, and that free verse could allow them more flexibility and directness (another rant I could go on for another time, and my stance on this might serve to shock you), so why should I hide behind smoke and mirrors in my writing?  Because doing so would demonstrate skill?  I'm not so concerned with being the greatest writer of all time as much as I am conveying a message, and if I feel like inserting myself somehow can be a means to this goal, I'll do it without a second thought.  I think it certainly works for "A Private Room in Rosewood."  Crohn's Disease may not be the terminal killer that cancer is, but it's definitely a disease that can lead to fatal complications.  It's an intermittent, chronic, slow death.  Besides, and I hate to sound writer-hipster here, but cancer is so overused.  o-O  I actually had quite a few people commend me for using Crohn's over cancer, so that should tell you something.

This could be the rant of a vain person, but I see it like this:  I saw the opportunity to take an aspect of my own life and character and use it to convey a message that will hopefully resonate with someone else, perhaps provoking reflection, thought, or incorporation into their own lives.  That could still be construed as conceited, since every celebrity peddling a memoir always claims that they're trying to showcase their own lives so that others might find inspiration or lessons from them.  I don't see myself in that same situation, and it's not just because I'm not famous...yet.  o-O  I don't see myself as this grand figure doling out morsels of advice to commoners below me; I see myself as a human being laying himself open for other humans to see that I'm human, too.  Chalk it up to my own dealings with death and grief (I've attended about a funeral/visitation a year since 2000), but I've learned in my experiences trying to comfort grieving people that sometimes it takes showing them that you, too, can bleed in order to establish a connection with them.  It takes more than the usual, worn-out "I'm sorry for your loss" to show them you genuinely care.  If you really want to make a connection with someone having a difficult time, you have to come down to their level and prove to them you are just as human as they are.  This kindred spirit is the person I always strive to be with those around me.  My letter to my deceased teacher's wife (Brook Gifford, which can be found in an earlier post on the blog) is proof positive of who I try to be in another's moment of crisis.  I try to act as such because I see it as my duty, as the right thing to do, and so that hopefully someone else might come along and do the same for me one day.  This is a major aspect of me as a person, and I think it shines through in my serious writing where I'm using myself as content, because I'm trying to use myself to help other people.  That's how I see it, anyway.

Feel free to judge me how you wish on this matter; some might see it as a "cop-out" of a vain man, but I see it as the efforts of a caring man trying to make a connection with someone.  Perhaps it takes knowing me to see it like I do?  I can certainly say it takes knowing at the very least what I look like to even recognize what I'm doing at all.  I stand confident that my intentions overshadow any thoughts of conceit, but that could simply be my pride in my craft talking.  :)  I think it takes some pride, some self-confidence, to even want to use yourself in such a way, and I do admit I'm proud of who I am as a person, or who I try to be anyway.  Are there things about me that I'm not proud of?  Sure.  I've got issues like anyone else, with the exception of maybe my Crohn's...that's something confined to a smaller percentage of the population.  I just hope that my good intentions shine through any shadows doubt might cast, and if there are still people who see it the other way around, they are certainly entitled to see it that way.  I would hope that they take the time to try looking at it like I do, because I can certainly say I've looked at it from the perspective they see it from.

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