Today’s post comes to you from novelist and poet, Keija Parssinen. I think you’ll find that her writing drips of intelligence and vivid, honest images, with prose that often reads like poetry.
Where You Need to Be to Write a True Story
It’s hard to get inspired in Missouri in the winter. Everything is the color of dirty dish water—the sky, the leafless trees, even the snow after a day on the ground. Life becomes muted and interior, a reflection of the dimmed landscape. Your writing takes on a studied, quiet quality that you never noticed before.
But one day, you see a fat, red cardinal, all puffed up and sitting on a branch outside, or a squirrel leaping hopefully, only to land, comically, with a small poof in the middle of a three-foot snow bank. Relief from the neutrals. Proof of life. Take notice of the tiny things—they will sustain you through the long cold season, through your own creative hibernation. Gather the images in your cheeks. Save them for later, for when the ground of your mind becomes soft and loamy once again, for when you sit down to write and cannot stop.
Also: seek out schools. In schools, children are told, “You can be a writer. Yours is a worthwhile pursuit. Reading and writing are wonderful.” Hear these things often enough, and you will be reminded not only why you write, but also, that writing is meaningful. In schools, the kids who love to write are given shiny, beautiful talismans for their efforts—gold stars, foil-wrapped chocolates, the teacher’s gleaming, toothy smile. Remember the time when writing was a pursuit of pure love. Forget agents, editors, word counts. Remember: love.
Awaken in the middle of the night. Go to the New York Times home page. Look at all 278 photographs of the Libyan revolution. Wonder where the women are. Cry over the old men crying over the bodies of the young men. Marvel at the man who walks across the desert with no shoes, carrying a rocket launcher on his back. The other men have shoes. What happened to his? Read Qaddafi’s quotes: “We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided. We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity. The world is crazy, and we will be crazy, too.” See that villain is still a viable career option in the modern world. Read: Many wonder what will happen if the rebels force Qaddafi to step down. Libya has no infrastructure for the transfer of power. They are not Egypt.
Remember Egypt. The people in the square. The flowers in the tank gun. The way the military did not brutalize their own people. Take heart. See that words like freedom are not just uttered by men in dark suits with flags on their lapels.
Life’s narratives are all around us. The small and the large. In the backyard. On the front page. The lean man walking along the side of the interstate with his steel-frame backpack. The friends divorcing. The madnesses seizing the minds of people you know. The fear of becoming a company man. The closed-door talks at the office park. The threat of children. The protests in the squares. The bloody crackdowns. The fat kings and fleshy dictators scrambling, nervous at the sudden energy of their people. The fifty workers still on shift at the Fukushima plant. The radioactive steam.
Anne Lamott says anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for a lifetime. But in case that is not enough, or perhaps you are bored with it by now, notice how you, a global citizen, are standing on the precipice, watching the world—of self, of friends, of family, of countries—struggle. It is just where you need to be to write a true story.
Keija Parssinen is a novelist, a poet, and a teacher of fiction writing. She is a graduate of Princeton University and received an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. Upon graduation, she earned a Michener-Copernicus award for her novel, AGAINST THE KINGS OF SALT, which will be published by Harper Perennial in January 2012. She directs the Quarry Heights Writers’ Workshop in Columbia, Missouri. You can find Keija at her blog, on Facebook, or by following her on Twitter.
This post was part of Get Inspired Monday! — a series created to help you dig into your week and find inspiration in unexpected places.