An Essay Related to the Writing Craft

Today, for fun, I’m posting an essay I wrote first semester, looking at a Eudora Welty short story through the eyes of a writer.  How does a good writer do it?  What are the elements of a good story?  There’s always some kind of conflict, often a three-act structure, and ah, variation.

[Nota bene:  The bias alert! on my proofreading software is disturbed at my use of the word “ladies” in the following essay.  It indicates I should have used the term “women.”  I’m choosing to let this essay stand as is, totally un-PC, in favor of following Welty’s original language.  Either Welty, who wrote in the dark ages of the 1940s and 50s, thought “lady” was an acceptable nominative for a full-grown, female person, or she’s demeaning her characters.  Read her short story and decide for yourself.]

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Curry F(l)avor

Earlier this week, Steven was home for “fall break” (otherwise known as “catch up on grading”), and together we made a big pot of curry stew to carry us through the next several meals. Leftover soup/stew is the ultimate convenience food.

He sautéed in the cast-iron skillet:  local ground beef, chopped onion and diced red peppers.  To a pot of boiling water, I added: a vegetable bouillon cube, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, a packet of rice and Cajun seasonings, and whatever other vegetables we had lying around.  Then Steven dumped the skillet’s contents into the pot and doused everything generously with curry powder (coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper) and a bit of salt.

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On Contradiction

I read this passage today in David Jauss’s excellent book on the writing craft, Alone With All That Could Happen, in which he quotes Simone Weil:

” ‘We are only certain,’ she says, ‘about what we do not understand.’ The way to understanding, then, is through uncertainty, and the way to leave false certainty behind and enter the realm of uncertainty is through the use of contradiction: ‘As soon as we have thought something,’ she advises, ‘try to see in what way the contrary is true.’  Importantly, the purpose of investigating ideas dialectically is not to eradicate one or the other idea, for contradiction, she argues, is an essential element of both truth and beauty . . .” (Jauss 187)

I love this notion.  Jauss’ entire chapter is about finding truth through contradictions, and I find it so freeing to hear someone  advocating this.  For a long time, I’ve had this problem–that is, I’d perceived it as problematic–of being absolutely confident of one thing, then immediately being equally sure of the exact opposite.  In crafting critical essays, often, I’ll stake a claim on a particular thesis . . . and immediately find piles of evidence to the contrary.  I tend to respond this way to political ideas, too, finding useful, though contradictory, ideas from both political parties, and wishing that all of us could do a better job of harmonizing them in practice.

It’s not necessarily, I think, a lack of conviction when someone brings contrary ideas together, but perhaps a means to a deeper truth.

After all, wasn’t there once a wise religious leader who was fond of pulling together all manner of baffling contradictions, saying things like, “Whomever would save his life must lose it” and “Whomever would be great must be the servant of all”?

Uncertainty is certainly an uncomfortable place to stand, but as I grow older, the more vital it seems for understanding.  Therefore, I’ll continue to be awed by both evolution and Jesus, by music and silence, by the wisdom of children and the elderly, and by, oh, everything and nothing.

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Traces of Tralfamadore

Traces of Tralfamadore Farm, an installation piece that found a home in 2008 at the Davison Gallery of Roberts Wesleyan College, arose out of an apprenticeship with fiber artist and farmer, Nancy Slye.  I’m working on an essay linking the farm with Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five, from which Nancy took her farm’s name.

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Hello, small microcosm of the universe!

It’s official.  I now have a blog, complete with a ribcage!  (Shouldn’t every blog have a solid bone structure?)  I’ve set this up at the request of some friends, and welcome readers’ input on topics, themes, etc.  For now, I’m thinking of this as a way to share what I’m learning, reading, and thinking about.  Also, there’s likely to be some cute stories about my kids and domestic life.

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