Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What Matters

I've been re-reading a collection of essays by poet Richard Hugo - The Triggering Town (published by Norton) - and in particular, one called "In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes". He talks about creative writing in academia, the negative attitudes and dismissals of writing as something that can be taught (a familiar line that gets trotted out in the arts sections of newspapers every so often). However, towards the end of the essay, he talks about what is important in a creative writing class, something he first learned 38 years ago in a high school English class:

"... I've seen the world tell us with wars and real estate developments and bad politics and odd court decisions that our lives don't matter ... When we are told in dozens of insidious ways that our lives don't matter, we may be forced to insist, often far too loudly, that they do. A creative-writing class maybe be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters." and "If a lot of people were not already willing to run from their lives, the demand for creative-writing classes would be greater. Disappearing into the hugeness of system is not unattractive ... something pulls us back from that tempting disappearance. Call it the obsessive and irresistible love of being alive, if you can stand the rhetoric. It is born of the certainty we will disappear fast enough. Oblivion needs no help from us."

This has struck home for me, perhaps because I've just been to the Writers' Festival, perhaps because I teach creative writing ... or perhaps because it reminded me forcefully of my sister, who died 7 years ago, of cancer. In the last months, I asked her about her days - I guess I was asking how she kept going - and she said that she took great pleasure in living in the moment. If she was hanging out the washing on a fine day, she would take a few minutes to enjoy the sun and the breeze and the smell of clean clothes and the birds in the trees ... you get the picture.

How many of us do that? How many of us take pleasure in simply having written? In being able to write down how we feel, or record a family story, or create a poem?
When was the last time you quietly sat for a few moments in the spring sunshine, put your face up to the light and breathed? Without thinking about water restrictions or sun screen or weeding the garden or a million other "necessities"? When was the last time you left your mobile phone at home on purpose and felt free rather than stressed about it? When was the last time you gave someone a hug just because it felt good?
How aware are you of truly living in the moment every now and then, and letting the rest of it fall away?


Tracey said...

You need to keep a swamp blog! This allows me to stand around and watch the sunset. I always try to enjoy the simple things in life: the brisk wind that gives me energy, the sun upon my shoulder, shade in hot weather, the feel of water all around. I think this makes me a basically happy person. At the moment, I'm enjoying walking my dogs along the waterfront, enjoying the views across the beach to the city, the sponginess of green grass, casuarina needles silhouetted against the sky. I'm always looking for that little detail that I can take pleasure from. Of course, some days it's easier to find than others!

Anonymous said...

It's really great to remind people to slow down. To that effect, I recommend 'How to be idle' by tom Hodgkinson.

By the way, I love the spaces! Thanks very much!