Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creating Something from Nothing

“I’m not sure if I like this either,” I remember telling my loving girlfriend of six years as I looked at the course description for creative nonfiction. I was choosing classes for my upcoming year at Lakehead University and I was having trouble picking because, well, everything I looked at seemed incredibly boring. I read all the courses with my usual cynical approach. “Medieval Scottish Poetry? Food and Writing? Shakespeare? I’m not paying thousands of dollars of my money and spending hundreds of hours of my time learning such narrow and useless subjects.” I remember thinking that I only had limited time on this Earth, not to mention limited money, so I felt the need to invest the two most important things one has into something thought-provoking, something interesting, something important.

And creative nonfiction did not look like that at all. I didn’t even really know what I was looking at. Creative nonfiction seemed to me as the realm of sensational celebrity stories, self-important personal essays, and sappy memoirs of youth. But I took a deep breath, told myself to stop being so judgmental, and I began to actually look deeper into this subject, to find its particular flavor and depth. For most of my life I was grossed out by sushi until I had it, literally, forced down my throat during a reading week in Vancouver. Now I absolutely love sushi. I learned a lesson that that day in the West Coast, so I tried my best to not pre-judge creative nonfiction, as I had sushi, and I began to force feed myself more information about the subject. I looked creative nonfiction up on Wikipedia, but the description was so dry that you could have used it for kindling. I searched for examples of creative nonfiction, but those were also, unfortunately, conforming to my initial concern of dreary coming-of-age stories. After much more disappointment in my investigation, and with classes quickly filling up during the meanwhile, I had to make a decision. So naturally, I asked my girlfriend Kate to make my decision for me.

“Do whatever you want,” she said offhand, busily trying to get her flight home set-up.

Normally that would have been a frustrating response; fundamentally it is the equivalent of saying nothing, because naturally I am going to do whatever I wanted to do. But for me, at that moment, it became something. It became something because it suddenly changed my perspective on creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction was not sentimental stories about being young or celebrities’ secret lives. Those are simply what some writers in creative nonfiction choose to write about. I could choose whatever stories in life that matter to myself; write about who, when, what I want. I could do whatever I wanted. The richness and variety of everyday experience provides an incredible amount of stories that can touch and change one’s soul and perspective, their ideologies and their own personal biases. That single sentence, one that I have heard thousands of times, became important, became something, because of the context that I experienced of it. I was worried that in writing creative nonfiction, I would be writing pieces no one would want to read. But that is not my place as a writer. I cannot give meaning, I create art that people find meaning in. If one person is affected by what I write, then doesn’t that make my writing important? I had decided what I wanted to do in that creative nonfiction class is to tell moments of life in the hopes that someone reading it may experience that shift in being, to maybe learn a lesson, to get something from what might have been nothing. So I decided to sign up for the course and to tell my, and others, stories, in the hopes that I can create something for someone, where once was nothing. My girlfriend's answer allowed me to find out what was important in creative nonfiction.


Chelsea C said...

Hello, this was a very interesting piece. I enjoyed it because I could relate to the class picking selection here. The thing I enjoyed most was the comment about looking up non-fiction "the description was so dry that you could have used it for kindling" Good job, this piece made me hope this class in the end gives you want you want. :)

Whitney Bourgouin said...

Jeremy, I really liked reading this. You have a type of flow to your writing. I like the way to put words and phrases together to make me want to keep reading. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it just sounds good. Like Chelsea, I liked the kindling line. I liked the comparison to sushi, because its something a lot of people are freaked out about.
I liked that though you described the way you thought about creative non-fiction several times, it was never repetitive. For example, first you referred to it as "sensational celebrity stories, self-important personal essays, and sappy memoirs of youth", and later you called it "dreary coming-of-age stories". These descriptions are varied enough to keep my interest in reading, and also provide enough sterotype about nonfiction that it is really evocative.
Good read!