As an English-major-to-be at Brandeis, there’s a pre-requisite course I had to take entitled “Introduction to Literary Method.” Being rather cocky when it comes to all things Literate, I was fairly certain that this course would be a complete waste of my time, and do nothing but reiterate the boring points and stupid poems I’d already talked to death in AP Brit Lit at PHS.
Well, I was wrong.
At first, I only gave credit to the course for introducing me to the people who have become my closest friends on campus. Even if Lit Method had turned out to be the garbage class I assumed I was in for, it would have been worth it to meet Talia, Ben and Chef.
When writing my final paper for this class, which I handed in yesterday, it slowly dawned on me that… I actually learned a hell of a lot. And not just in an acquiring-knowledge kind of sense, but in an acquiring-knowledge-about-myself kind of a sense. I found that “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” is actually one of the best poems I’ve ever read, and not a disgusting pile of pretentious drivel, and more importantly? I finally found the words to phrase a concept that has shaped my understanding of literature for years.
We read a poem by Wallace Stevens entitled “Of Modern Poetry.” The poem itself still isn’t my favorite, but he discusses how a poem must bend over backwards, be everything to everyone- stage, actor, and audience. He writes that that actor must be
“A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.”
I cannot get over the truth and power of those words. Everyone has a favorite line of a poem, favorite scene of a story, favorite bridge in a song. And it’s not just that it’s human nature to latch on to certain things; it’s… a deeply personal experience. Certain words, certain phrases, simply speak to us—resonate on a level that sometimes we ourselves can’t fully comprehend.
I grooved on that idea for ages, and was naturally thrilled when I got to see it come into play yet again in that same English class. We studied Camera Lucida, a book on photography theory by Roland Barthes. According to Barthes, every photo contains two elements—a studium and a punctum. The studium comprises the work as a whole; what the photographer (or author, or artist) is trying to convey, and how they choose to convey it. The studium is the kind of thing you write papers about in high school.
And the punctum is, largely, an accident. The punctum is a small detail that captures your interest—it enthralls you, “wounds you,” as Barthes would say, and greatly informs your entire reading of the piece. In other words, the punctum would be a “sudden rightness.”
So this blog is largely going to be about that—my experiences writing and reading, what influences me and what makes me cringe. A place for me to discuss what I love and why I love it.
And now on to the post I was going to write in the first place:
For about two years, I have been developing a novel that is very close to my heart—the kind of endeavor Hayley has referred to as “the infinite writing project of my soul,” which I could not agree with more. Entitled Keeping Faith, it revolves entirely around the relationship (and occasionally non-relationship) of two best friends: Faith Caldwell and David Goldstein.
These two characters have come a long way since I first met them in the winter of early 2007, just as I have come a long way as a writer. Initially very little more than a “Dharma and Greg” rip off (come on, you remember that show, right?), the two of them have grown into very distinct personalities.
I’m not going to lie. David is still very much like a male version of me: a worrier, a compulsive do-gooder, responsible and sarcastic. But in the years I’ve known him, he’s deteriorated; his moral core has gone off-center, just as Faith—whom I originally conceptualized as a complete wild child—daily becomes easier to anticipate and read, more open with herself and with me.
And slowly, I’m starting to discover why that is.
Of course, there’s the obvious reason: I’m, slowly but surely, becoming better at what I do. I’m taking baby steps towards a reasonable facsimile of reality in my prose every day. But the evolution of David and Faith, I have come to realize, has everything to do with me and my own relationship with my own faith.
You’ll forgive me if my thoughts get a little disjointed here: the epiphany I’m trying to convey to you now was first reached during a very deep, very religious and ultimately, quite personal conversation with Sarah Keeler at 4 in the morning.
My faith is my core. And not faith as in simply “blind belief;” faith is more than that. To me, faith is an unshakable conviction in the overall okayness of the universe. Knowing that things happen for a reason: not saying that we are rudderless puppets of Fate, but that we are put on this earth to learn and grow, and pain is just as big a part of that as joy. Knowing that everything we experience is an opportunity we are meant to grasp, and a lesson that we have to learn.
My faith is my core. There is pretty much nothing anyone could do or say that could make me lose my certainty. But what I’ve come to realize? David doesn’t have that. And that’s the big discrepancy between us—where the mirror reflecting me back on myself bends like a fun house, twisting him away from me and turning him into his own person.
David doesn’t have an internal faith. …but he does have Faith. And she acts as his ballast and compass just as surely as he does for her: not as a voice of reason, as he so often must be for others, but as a voice of profound empathy.
(Like I said: the bloggity bit was kind of boring.)
I’m not going to make any promises as to the frequency or substantiality of posts here; that’s only gotten me into trouble in the past. But for now… I’m excited, and I hope to see you soon.