Thursday, February 23, 2012

The craft of writing

The writing department at my university runs an annual literary festival called ArkaText. It features writers based on Arkansas or with a connection, either personal or thematic, to the state.

This spring the faculty were kind enough to invite Noel to be one of those writers. He gave a "craft talk" to a group of faculty and students in the morning, was treated to lunch with faculty members, and in the afternoon did a reading (of a couple of VSEs -- this one and this one) to the general public.

Even though I tell people all the time that my husband's a writer; even though Noel and I talk about writing all the time; even though I've taught courses on writing for the very department that invited him -- I still find it strange to watch Noel in that setting. He spends all his time writing. Now suddenly he's being asked to spend a whole day talking about writing instead of doing it.

It's not that he doesn't have plenty to say that's valuable to writing students about what he does. His presentations -- both of them -- got great reviews. It's more the psychological and cultural distance between writing, and being named, treated, and queried as a writer. Whenever you make that move from the daily work to the social meaning of your role, its status and connotations, you feel a shift.

That shift is enhanced when you go outside your normal site and are introduced to strangers in terms of your role. They don't know you as a person; they only know what they've been told you do. Then it's up to you to live up to those expectations, or to ignore them if you prefer.

I'm going to a university in a nearby community on Monday to give an invited talk. As I prepare my presentation, I'm not just thinking about the topic of my talk. I'm thinking about how they'll see me. I'm thinking about my image as a professor, and the image of my department and my university.  The school that invited me is a more conservative place than my home institution. I don't want to offend, but I also want to represent my topic and myself accurately. I want those who attend to leave informed and challenged, not only about my topic but about me.

In between my work, my self, and my various roles, lies my self image. And it's constantly on the move. I can't imagine how hard it must be for people who have more roles they need to fill and more people they need to please.


Pilgrim said...

I would like to hear Noel talk about that sometime. Did he perhaps prepare notes on the computer that I might read although it is not like hearing in person?

Noel Murray said...

No, no notes. Spoke off the cuff; mostly Q&A.