Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Looking at the future on approaching 40

As I approach the age of 40, it seems that in spite my intentions, I have made this an important birthday. Life events, including a lay-off and the death of my dog who had been my primary anchor during the toughest years of my life, have played a part. I have finally fully accepted that the fragments that seem to be forced upon us in the academy are illusory. The idea, for example, that a scholar must write boring prose, is no longer something I accept. One of the reasons I took this creative nonfiction course was so I could experiment with ways I could incorporate a more engaging writing style with my scholarly essays. Unexpectedly, I found myself writing on more personal topics, such as my own social, spiritual, and general life struggles. Perhaps that is what I need to be doing right now to push past this final obstruction that I’ll forever call the wretched thirties. Maybe not. Maybe perspective will soften that judgment. I’m certainly open to that.

Now, I am planning on full-time study of spirituality and religion. My engagement with the writing world is not going to disappear as this progresses. In fact, the primary way I plan to use this training and study is for writing. I envision myself writing essays about religion, finding the nooks and dark corners and quirky sidebars of spirituality that show how different we are as people expressing, probably, the same universal desire. I realize not everyone is as serious about this topic as I am, but it seems everyone I have met has reckoned with the big questions at some level, even if it is to take a peek, or be forced to go to some religious service, and conclude that they will just find out when they die.

With each new professor in the very near future, I will inquire about his or her receptiveness to my writing papers for their courses in a creative-nonfiction manner. Speaking from a craft-oriented perspective, I think the more essays of a similar nature that I read, the more skilled I will be, and the stronger my instincts will become. I foresee the challenge of writing at a scholarly level but with the idea of “making the topic interesting” for a reader who would not be in such a college course. While this is still a foggy idea for me, I feel it is part of my own calling as a writer. I have been told that, based on blog entries I have written on various topics, that I should be striving towards publication, and that has become appealing to me. Fiction writing, which is what I’ve primarily studied for most of my adult life (a pursuit which included not only an M.A. in the topic, but also additional workshops later in life), has become increasingly frustating, while nonfiction has offered much gratification. I have enjoyed what I have done so far in this class and elsewhere, and can see taking it more seriously than I once did. While I am unsure how much memoir-type writing I really want to do, I am very attracted to weaving in some personal memoir along with more philosophical religious ideas.

I’ve heard that some writers have the goal of having published enough books to fill a bookshelf by the time they pass away. I hold no such goals, but I do want to actively publish, in both the scholarly journals and in the more popular press. While book publishing is certainly a desire, my more immediate interest is in articles and essays, and I doubt I will limit myself to my academic pursuits, topically speaking. I do have some memoir pieces already begun, of course, and I am not abandoning those. The spiritual autobiography is a draw for me, though I am seeing this being more “doable” if I pursue it first as a series of articles that I can later compile together for a book, with some transitioning and editing to make it into an effective larger work. Small slices of life are important to me too, so I will continue to write about those. My role in the writerly world, as I see it now, is to move away from my previous desire of writing solely for an audience of other writers. I want to be part of the world’s thinking community, and I want to share my thoughts and research with the readers of such publications as Harper’s and the New Yorker and The Atlantic, even if those specific magazines aren’t my ultimate destination. I’d like to contribute to the world of thinking, and I want to do it wearing the hat of the distinguished and talented writer. I plan to keep working on my skills, on my studies outside of those oriented on craft, combine the two, and share the fruits of my effort. This is my new dream. Better stated, this is to where I have come and how my self-image has evolved. It presents me with a feasible future and a satisfying career orientation. I’m not choosing a job; I’m integrating my strengths into a complete way of life, God willing.

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