Syllabus

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I recently discovered a creative nonfiction writing syllabus from a college class taught by David Foster Wallace. In it, he stated, among other things:

“…This does not, however, mean that an essayist’s main goal is simply to “share” or “express herself” or whatever feel-good term you might have got taught in high school. In the grown-up world, creative nonfiction is not expressive writing but rather communicative writing. And an axiom of communicative writing is that the reader does not automatically care about you (the writer), nor does she find you fascinating as a person, nor does she feel a deep natural interest in the same things that interest you. The reader, in fact, will feel about you, your subject, and your essay only what your written words themselves induce her to feel.”

Hmmm. Well, I mean he’s right – he’s David Freaking Foster Wallace. He would know (or he “did” know, since he is no longer among the living and I’m kind of bitter about that).

My problem with this: I don’t really care if the reader cares about me, or the things that interest me.

For the moment, that is. This can always change, and it probably will, because by my very nature I am prone to random fits of change. My interests, my priorities, my goals, dreams, and even how I think of myself on any given day.

I even write under at least, oh, probably five different pen names (at a minimum), depending on the genre or slant. Because sometimes I want to write about the warm sunshine on my shoulders, and how much I love the music of John Denver. And on another day I want to write something really dark, like a horror-themed short story, or a cringe-y angsty poem, you know, like channeling Sylvia Plath – the kind where I would be mortified if my family read it.

I never know which literary mood I’ll be in day-to-day.

Some of this is a natural corollary of being bipolar. I even like to joke that I am “tripolar” (my loved ones indulge me by pretending this little joke of mine is clever and not-at-all alarming).

But I don’t think it’s 100 percent related to mental illness. As far back as I can remember in my life, my interests, hobbies, obsessions, goals etc. etc. –  have been all over the map. I’m sure that sounds kind of sketchy to some people, and I can understand that because I used to hate it about myself – I felt like it was a weakness. A character defect.

And then I found a lovely and lively, hugely inspirational woman named Barbara Sher. I’ve read every one of her books numerous times, and I always find new treasures and nuggets of wisdom and inspiration each time I do.

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This right here changed my life.

It was because of the deeply empathetic and caring Ms. Sher that I discovered my mercurial nature was not, in fact, a weakness. It is my strength. I’m what she refers to as a “Scanner.”

I kinda like to think of it as: kaleidoscopic!

So my writing right now – as in – right at this moment – is focused primarily on my interests. And if I happen to have an interest or a light bulb moment or a flash of inspiration I think might benefit others, then I’ll polish it up and send it out for submission.

Otherwise, as much as I worship David Foster Wallace, I’m not going to fret about the edict in his syllabus. But I will certainly keep it in mind for future reference.