Joan Didion’s “Why I Write”
“By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?”
No quotation has ever summed up my life’s ambition better than Joan Didion’s one above. But forget the specificity of “writing”—while useful, I treat it as a placeholder. I do, I teach, I learn. I do all these things so that I may begin the process of understanding them. So with that said, my teaching, at this point in its infancy, is one with very few walls, simply because it’s too early to build them. I’d likely knock them all down again. Again and again. And I expect this sort of back-and-forth with myself. I would be a fool to presume that I had any real power over the minds of my students, and luckily enough, my ego has never required it.
Runciman contemplates on the odd pressures of classroom and of the bright student who turns in the jumbled paper. Of whether or not the act of enjoying writing is a necessary component to its validity. Why is this prerequisite? I think, as writers ourselves, we make it one by default. Or rather, we hope that it is one. We want the same joy that we ourselves feel to rub off on our students.
And while I don’t think that the role of “pleasure” is necessary for writing to be valid, I do admit that I have a bias towards it, that I hold expectations for my craft, in this way, to be “fun” or “enjoyable” for my students. And I admit that this isn’t always necessarily fair. However, I like to think of it as a forgivable sin, and one that proves to me, in a semi-selfish way, that I care both about my craft as well as the enjoyment of it by others (specifically, my students’ enjoyment of it). I also believe that this will benefit me more, be less of an “unfair expectation” for when I teach creative writing classes.