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The Gathering Week One

Well, the first book I have to read for my residency with acclaimed western writer, Jane Boyer (Candia Coleman) is The Gathering by Anne Enright. Now you must be thinking, what is a western writer doing assigning an Irish writer to a bunch of first years (freshman so to speak)? The answer would be my upcoming trip to Dublin, Ireland in June. Why Anne Enright? Because she could very well be there during the residency and she is a fantastic example of Irish writing.

The copy I'm currently reading looks like this ūüôā

I’ve had some experience with Irish writing. Mostly James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, and William Trevor. My experience first came in a Irish Short Fiction class during my junior or senior year of my undergrad. It would have been an amazing class if it had not been at 8 o’clock in the morning three days a week. There is just something about 8 a.m. that makes the brain want to work less. It was interesting nonetheless and I expect my time in Ireland will be much better than sleepy mornings in the basement of the library.

Returning to the purpose of the post, I have spent the last few days starting Anne Enright’s book. ¬†The book is set in Ireland and England, so far. To me, they are exotic enough that just the areas she describes excite me to read more. As much as I enjoy her use of vocabulary and detailed scenes, I force myself to slow down. Too frequently, readers forget how to read slow and simply skim over the words only processing half of them. My friends and family may think I’m a fast reader because I finish books quickly, but that is not the case. In fact, I would describe myself as a slow reader on purpose. I want to savor the moments of a book whether it is for school or for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a race to get to the end of the story. A book should be read at the pace that it’s written.

For example, Carrie¬†by Stephen King, I read in one sitting or a few hours. It was relatively small for a Stephen King novel, but the fast paced nature of the story is what led me to read it quickly. The author somewhat dictates how fast or slow you read the book, but the story also does that. ¬†For the books I’m required to read for school, though, I¬†deliberately take my time to savor and analyze the book. As I have¬†¬†learned from my first residency, there is a difference between reading as a reader and reader as a writer. I struggle automatically to differentiate the two while reading.

However, I’m not alone as it is a skill acquired with time and practice. It is easy to enjoy a story and read for pleasure. It is another to read from an academic point and analyze potential literature for archetypes and common themes. It is another point all together to read as a writer. It is completely different to read thinking about style, voice, and point of view. To understand how a writer wrote such a fantastic story from the inside is a task not easily handled. So, I have only delved 1/5 of the way through the world Enright has created.

I am following an Irish family as they suffer through one of many deaths. The main character, Veronica Hegarty, is suffering most from her brother’s suicide. Although, from the first few pages, their deranged mother seems to be suffering more than all of her remaining children combined. I think the casual nature that Enright brings in the dysfunction of the family appeals most to me. Everyone thinks they have the most dysfunctional family, until they look at the house next door or down the street. It is that familiarity that your family infuriates you (Veronica being the responsible one and having to take care of all the arrangements) and soothes you (hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will) without you even realizing it. She depicts a playful relationships with the past and present of Veronica’s life in addition to an imaginative past of her grandparents’.

I am struck by how quintessential family can become in just a few chapters. It doesn’t have to relate at all to your own family because people always find¬†similarities¬†in the smallest things. It is simply the struggle of dealing with family and death that makes this book so easy to connect. Two elements that in one way or another shape every human being, every living creature on the planet. I look forward to each page, attempting to understand the bits of Irish culture embedded in the ¬†story as well as the overall feeling of Enright as a writer. If I do have the chance to meet Enright, I will surely faint for the sheer fact that she is an acclaimed Irish writer. More importantly, I will again be in awe of those much more experienced and eloquent doing the most valuable thing in the world, writing.

So, I leave you reader to return to The Gathering and coincidentally my cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hope you will check out this little piece of Irish life as I prepare to write a paper about it.

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To be or not to be: The Stereotype of a Writer

Stereotypes have plagued mankind since the beginning. It is a way to be comforted in each other’s silly likenesses and ridicule other people’s weird differences.

But where did stereotypes develop? Here’s one idea. Someone sat down one day angry at a person or most likely a group of people. He wrote down all the embarrassing¬†or annoying traits of the people he hated and started sharing them with his friends. His friends began using these specific traits to mock and ridicule people they didn’t like and the idea spread. ¬†Typically, a stereotype focused on a group of people with a common background or even coming from the same country.

Yet, stereotypes for writers have transcended normal reasons for grouping them together. We come from every spot on the planet, every ethnicity, every shape and size. Even what we write varies not only in type (poetry, non-fiction, fiction) to the genre in which we write (sci-fi, romantic, Latin American History, etc). The one thing we have in common is the act of writing. We all have a need to write something every second of the day either in our heads or down on the computer. So, how did someone find all of these things in common that we now associate as stereotypes of writers?

I don’t have an answer for that, but I decided to go through all of the stereotypes and see which ones I fit in and which ones I don’t. To be honest, my guess as to how stereotypes began is not how I view them now. Not all stereotypes are bad and sometimes they are true indicators of that person or group. ¬†For me, I see the stereotypes of writers as funny misunderstandings as well as badges of courage we must push past.

Here is my list of the most common and funny stereotypes:

1. ¬†Writers are alcoholics/drug¬†addicts¬†or both-Now see here, not every writer has to drink to get inspiration or be high to write. However, it is a pattern. Maybe it is the sensitivity of artists, struggling with questions about life that no one else bothers to think about. Or maybe it’s that the booze takes the edge off the fact that we have to work three jobs just to pay for bills and still have to make time to write the next chapter. Anyway you look at it, the greats have sometimes needed a shot of whiskey to get them ready to write and a group of writers are always more enjoyable after placing a bottle of wine (or several) between them.

2. Writers always drink coffee and smoke profusely–I don’t have either of these qualities, but I know many that do. I think this a vastly overrated stereotype because each person is different. I prefer tea, but the result is the same. You’re all warm on the inside and it tastes amazing. As for the smoking, I don’t smoke because I want to be as healthy as possible to spend the next 70 years writing.

3. Writers are loners- This one is mostly true, but we have to be. Because at the end of the day if you can’t have some peace and quiet to do the writing you need…you don’t get paid or get the voices of those characters out of your head.

At the same time, we yearn to be social butterflies. While social interaction may not be required during the writing process of a story, the process before and after allows us to interact with as many people as we want. In this digital age, publishers are doing less of the marketing side of publishing and are laying the task to the writer. So, we not only have to come up with the idea, write it all down in a creative way, and market it to billions of people in hopes of them buying it.

It isn’t always a bad thing. As my one writing friend just said, “The plus side to being a writer is that going on Facebook is part of my job.” And it’s true. Writers are becoming more social creatures out of a need to network. Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like these are important to creating a fan base before you are published and famous. I’m constantly checking Facebook and my blog to see how my work is being received. It is important to know that writers can come out of our shells and interact with “regular” people. ¬†It’s such a different sight to see a bunch of writers get together because you would never imagine a writer being a loner after witnessing all of them together.

4. Writers are crazy-Yes, there is a stereotype that writers are insane. They have to be after writing things no one else can imagine. Bi-polar, schizophrenia, and depression have graced the brains and personalities of the most famous writers ever to exist. There will always be studies done until the end of time on the connection between creative minds and mental disorders. It could be the substance abuse or the isolation that creates crazy writers, but there is one fact that goes unnoticed. Even if a writer is 15 kinds of crazy, they still have a better grasp on the human condition than the completely sane readers that buy their writing.

Sometimes padded rooms are perfect to get that last paragraph done

We write because we need to write. Because something inside us compels us to tell a story no one else has come up with yet. Because our hearts say that the world needs to read this character, this situation and only I can write it. Whether we do it alone in a make shift office in the attic or have a bottle of Jack Daniels besides our laptop, the result is the same. A story or perspective on life that only sensitive artists can produce for the world.

No matter if you end up killing yourself like Sylvia Plath or live a long life like Ray Bradbury the need inside you to write will always push you to give the world what you have to offer. A story never told before from your eyes. So, I may be a loner who drinks too much tea and could eventually become bi-polar. At least I know my purpose in life…to be now and always, a writer.

Feel free to share other stereotypes of writers or which stereotypes you have. The more stereotypes we have means the more people we are affecting as a group, which is always a good thing. Bad press is better than no press. So stereotype away!

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