Important things

Drove north and east to visit Erie, PA today, where my writing pals Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl were visiting Alan’s parents.  Had a great several hours to talk and catch up with them before having to head back home (and them having to catch a flight back to Minnesota).  But on the way home, I strayed away from the interstate and into the rural back roads that make up the geography of my childhood and adolescence. Which I’ve been writing about lately in a course I’m taking in my MFA program at Chatham University, which focuses on writing about place, nature, and the environment.  Lately I’ve been writing these tiny little lyrical essayistic things–I’m not sure what to call them–that make use of poetic lyricism and imagery and tone to convey more than the controlled logical arguments of a traditional essay, which all center around both the rural environment I grew up in, as well as the post-industrial urban environment I moved into for college.  As I write them, I’m starting to see they may be small word objects that go together as a mosaic collage-like exploration of some of the stranger or anachronistic sites, objects, and experiences that are specific to rural and post-industrial Ohio.

Driving through the place where I spent my formative years, back into Youngstown afterward, provided me with reminders of things I’d forgotten, details and memories evoked from those details, that make me want to explore this type of writing beyond my fiction in the future, regardless of my degree being nearly completed.  I wasn’t sure, to be completely honest, what I would think about a course on Nature and Environmental Writing, but it turns out it provides a rich writing (and reading) experience that I hadn’t expected.  I also hadn’t expected to discover I’d been reading and enjoying a certain amount of that kind of writing for years without knowing that’s what it was.  This past week, for instance, we read a piece by Ursula K. Le Guin that I had read years ago, from her collection, Unlocking the Air, called “The Creatures on My Mind” as a meditative piece on human/non-human life form relationships.  Rereading that, I was also reminded of one of my formative experiences as a writer, reading Le Guin, and how–if I could have my way, and be good enough on top of having my way–I wanted from an early age to be a writer like Ursula Le Guin, who did not do one particular thing, but many different kinds of writing, for children, teens, adults, science fiction and fantasy, magical realism, realism, poetry, nature writing, essays, literary translation.  I admired how she went wherever her material took her, and explored a variety of forms.  So along with being reminded of details and memories from the first twenty years of my life this weekend, I was reminded of my early writerly desire to work in a variety of forms.

It’s been good, lately, to find myself returning to myself, as I must admit that the past two years of being a full time teacher and a half time student has scattered my energies in so many ways that I sometimes lost track of important things.



, , , ,




6 responses to “Important things”

  1. Karen Avatar

    Teaching full-time, grad school part-time AND still having time to write books? Wow. ^O.O^

    I’ll have to read “Unlocking the Air”. I think having rich descriptions of setting, especially natural ones, is the most important element of story to me. Maybe that reflects on my own rural upbringing just east of Erie, and my fond memories of solitude and nature.

    1. Christopher Barzak Avatar

      Karen, I’m very much the same sort of reader: I want stories and novels with rich settings. Rural ones are favorites, though I’ll take any sort of setting as long as it’s really important to the story itself, too. It’s sometimes an overlooked aspect in fiction.

      “Unlocking the Air and Other Stories” is a great collection, but the stories will weave in and out of various modes and genres. There are several other pieces like “The Creatures on My Mind” in that collection, though, and others that are just brilliant despite not being nature or place oriented. Le Guin is one of my favorite writers.

      I didn’t know you grew up rural east of Erie. When I left home for college, having grown up somewhat isolated and on a farm to boot made me feel a bit like fish out of water, but I think it also gave me a different perspective to write from, since it’s not the most common place for people to grow up these days. I loved the solitude, too.

  2. Kelly Avatar

    I think these impulses you’re talking about are great ones to follow. I am most stuck when I force myself to be a certain kind of person and writer. An imaginative mind shouldn’t have to rest in one genre, is antithetical to imagination. It makes great sense for it to want to weave in and out and around and up and down and inside out. I’m looking forward to reading your lyrical pieces.

    1. Christopher Barzak Avatar

      Thanks, Kelly! I’m looking forward to sharing them (when I’ve got them all in the best places I can get them!) 🙂

  3. Alan Avatar

    That’s very cool, and it was great to see you two! I like driving the back roads in that area too. One of the reasons is that in some way that it’s similar to time travel–where my parents live, most of the roads are unchanged from the 1860s, if not earlier (that’s the earliest map that we have that shows the road names and even some of the same families). Plus I think this weather brings out that lyric contemplation, I’m sure.

    Oh! We almost got stranded in Detroit overnight, they had actually closed the door at the boarding gate, but they managed to sneak us in. Amazingly, our luggage made it too. Have no idea how.

    Miss you guys!

    1. Christopher Barzak Avatar

      So glad you guys made it home intact with luggage to boot! I hate flying. It exhausts me, despite having to just shuffle along.

      Time travel–exactly. To those other times when they were started, and back to feelings and observations I’d had or made as a kid and then forgot about. There’s a part of me (probably not very sane) that would love to move back out into one of those little time-locked towns. I especially love the tiny central squares with old fashioned pharmacies and general stores and doctors who have offices in old homes, where the waiting room is really a living room. Nostalgic? Sure. But I don’t care.

      Miss you guys already too!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: