One of the ways I distinguish my teaching goals each semester is with a quotation that precedes syllabi policy information. This semester I begin my undergraduate creative writing workshop in nonfiction with the following guidance from David Huddle:
The discoveries made through writing are liberating to the artist. If they are “hard knowledge,” these discoveries nevertheless grant the artist a permanent unburdening. Thus personal liberation is the basic incentive for trying to write as well as one can.
Howʼs that for a lure to tuck in the back of oneʼs craw? Certainly this concept, as described in “What You Get For Good Writing” from Huddleʼs collection The Writing Habit, appeals to one losing the liberating schedule of the summer months. I questioned whether it would be shared by a classroom of ranging ages and educational draws, but decided I am safe. There are few human experiences more common than burden paired with the desire to acquire the knowledge and/or resources to ethically escape it.
Probably the closest one can come to freedom is by dismantling the concept like a push mower engine, revealing its inner workings.
In hindsight, for example, I view my undergraduate experience as a time of relative ease, but I was also busy strategizing. Freedom was something I had in direct proportion to my ability to sustain it, to design a future life that protected such abstractions as freedom, happiness, security. Of course, wanting to preserve anything creates lack. Fortunately in those days I was bold or naïve enough to trust powers beyond myself for extended periods. Those blessed stretches gave me freedom from fear or want and were precious, but freedom outright cannot be dependent for its definition on not feeling entrapped or beholden, etc. As Huddleʼs statement implies, liberation is not only “personal” but also a process of making many “discoveries.”
While on sabbatical and thanks to his generous wife looking after their daughter, Huddle was able to spend months of uninterrupted time at the writing colony Lake St. Clair. The writing ritual he developed of spending hours at his desk followed by a run around the lake and dinner with other artists sounds enviable. One can easily imagine his return to a life with more distractions—and closer to mine—would be difficult. Writing might set me free, if only I could juggle the writing life with my lives as editor, partner, daughter, teacher.
Is writing to liberate me from responsibilities? No, but it may help me respond better to them. Huddle suggests that with reflection one becomes more aware of her rhythms. He crafted a sustainable daily practice that involves doing afternoon chores to clear his slate for mornings. His attention to his own practice, including admitting and counteracting his unproductive habits, led me to evaluate my own. When I am writing well, I am at my most free perhaps for no other reason than that I am distracted from everything else. It follows that I might pave the reverse way by securing unfettered periods for attention. The business of writing is largely one of diligence managing the hours surrounding those ones from which so many things have been tended or set aside.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming.