Friday, February 5, 2010

The Te of Writing

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is to un-block my writer's block. This is another one of those things that I attribute to my dissatisfaction with the social aspects of this program and the entrenched structural inequities and epistemic violence that runs rampant in the academy and that it is loathe to acknowledge in any meaningful way. (I'll go into this more directly in another post.)  In addition to unclogging my writing pipes, I also know that I want to develop my writing so that it is performative and embodied.  That is, I need my writing itself to do something (this is political, related to my research, and the "beef" I have with the academy that I alluded to above), and I need the body to be present in my writing.  This last part might be more difficult, but these two goals are what I am focusing on this semester.

To this end (returning to the writer's life generally, embodied writing more specifically), I have done two things:
1. Added links to journaling/writing prompts. I hope to spend 30 minutes each morning doing some kind of freewriting.
2. Enrolled in a course on ethnographic writing that is something of a workshop, complete with guided writing activities. Today was our first meeting. It went well.

She asked us to first brainstorm on different sheets of paper the forms of writing we do, the kinds of texts we produce, and the audiences for whom we write.  After the brainstorm, we paired off and discussed out writing processes, issues, concerns. Then we returned to the room for a bit of freewriting.  Here is mine:

Writing is an embodied experience for me. Though I often think too fast for my handwriting to keep up, I love the way writing by hand feels in comparison to typing. For our brainstorming activity, I switched writing implements three times: from gel pen to pencil to thin pen before I finally settled on the pencil after all. It felt the best on the single sheet that separated it from the conference table. The gel pen always feels good, but today it scratched across the surface in a way that didn't allow the gel to flow freely. The black ink didn't trail behind in the thick lines the way I knew it could on the softness of multiple sheets. And the thin pen. Oy. No matter how many sheets of paper separate its ball point from the hard backing surface, its ultra fine point always seems to scrape across the paper violently – like one false stroke will tear the page. And I never use it to write in cursive. I always use it to print. My printing is something closer to angular than flowing. It's my Deliberate font. But anyway, I ended up back with the pencil. After years and years of strict loyalty to pens all through college, PhD school has returned the pencil to my hand. Even though it's erasable, pencil makes me feel like I'm really writing. Maybe because I can hear it. It's like I can hear and feel the lead being transferred to the paper in ways you just can't with ink. Ink just stains. It seeps. I guess I can hear the thin pen too, but that's the sound of the roller scraping against its housing and the metal against the page, not the actual transfer of ink. Yeah, those gel pens feel smooth and look great, but they don't sound like pencil. Even when you have filled both sides of a piece of paper, the penciled paper sounds (read that as an active verb) – it makes sound, the way it has been warped by the writing. Gel pages are just soaked. And silent.

I admit, I couldn't help but channel an old poem I wrote in the mid 1990s (1995, I think).  It's not too difficult to see how these two pieces are connected:


I like the sound of crispy pages --
ones that have been  
written on
glued on
spilled on.

I saunter-jaunt
through states of mind
with the turn of each 
wobbly-edged page.

Until I find a hungry one.

My blood warps the pulp
with every
letter    comma    word:
paper lapping lovingly 
from my veins.

Watching capillarity
                      caterpillar over fibers,
I forget how to spel

I think this is an interesting first step down the path back to my writing self.  I'm tapping what it is about writing that nourishes me. It's not necessarily the turn of a phrase or brilliantly capturing/expressing an idea, but the very act of writing itself -- putting pen to paper, self on the page. This is probably why Gloria Anzaldua's writing resonates in me and gives me the courage to even attempt to "write the thing that scares me" as my advisor so wants me to do.  (Don't worry, I'll take up Gloria and Aimee and all the rest in future posts.)  For now, I'm pleased to have put words on the page (screen).  It's such a comfort to know that my writer's voice hasn't been silenced forever.

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