"Even if it's a dumb story, telling it changes other people just the slightest little bit, just as living the story changes me. An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesimal change ripples outward--ever smaller but everlasting. I will get forgotten, but the stories will last. And so we all matter--maybe less than a lot, but always more than none." - Colin Singleton, in An Abundance of Katherines by John GreenThrough the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the direction of this blog. Right now, I'm sitting in sort of a limbo between having relevant-to-my-readership Japan updates (I leave in about a month) and this odd dull period where all I'm doing is grading and reading leisure work (and applying for my visa).
So where does that leave this blog? Without spending all my time commenting on politics, I feel like I end up repeating myself a bunch of times on the same subject (hmm, sounds an awful lot like teaching...). Inspiration seems to have eluded me of late, and I just haven't been in the mood to write.
But then I read some more John Green, and thought again about why I write.
First, a story.
When I was little, I had a dream of getting a typewriter (I'm old school) and writing the next great American novel (like so many of my current fellows in the English lit world, I imagine, but not necessarily the dream of a typical five year old). In middle school, I met one of my best friends, Karen, who wrote short stories and novellas that were enchanting, all about wolves and magic and different worlds. When I couldn't write like that, I decided my future career was clearly not to be a writer. After all, if I couldn't write fiction fantasy novels like those I enjoyed reading, what worth would I be as a writer? Every attempt I had at writing didn't turn out immediately like I imagined it to be - it was often a clearly plagiarized version of whatever novel I happened to be reading that week.
Despite not thinking of myself as a good writer, I was always a voracious reader. I remember walking down the halls of my elementary school in first grade, looking at the third grade dioramas of the Boxcar Children series and thinking, "Oh I loved that book! That one was good!" Most of what I picked up I devoured. I remember reading Jack London's Call of the Wild and White Fang in fifth grade. In sixth grade, I read tons of fantasy novels, branching into Anne McCaffery, Stephen King, John Grisham and K.A. Applegate by the time I hit 8th grade. When I found a series I liked, I immersed myself in it. In the reading pages contests in 8th grade, no one was even close (it didn't hurt that I read the 1090 page book It by Stephen King that semester).
What I didn't realize was that all this reading was affecting my ability to write. Being a good reader encouraged me to be a good writer.
During my sophomore year of high school, Mrs. Votaw, my advanced English teacher, sat me down and explained to me that I was immensely enjoyable to read. I could say things in quick, concise ways, and for the first time I heard: "You are a good writer."
That compliment was like a talisman that I carried through the rest of high school. Even suffering through AP Lit and Comp junior year where discussions consisted of "Okay class, what happened in this chapter?" I knew that I could string together words in ways that could were fun to read. Senior year, I struggled under the harsh comments of my AP English teacher, who frequently made us write our bad sentences on the board and then criticized them in front of the class (I realize now what a good teaching technique that is, but I always took the criticisms much more personally than my classmates). I was proud of my writing, and definitely thought I had reason to be.
For once in my life, I felt like I mattered.
Somewhere between senior year and freshman year of college, though, I lost some of that confidence. I decided English wasn't my thing, and God had called me to religious studies, rather than writing. I was going to be a pastor! Or a motivational speaker! Or something! I hadn't even registered for freshman comp because I figured I'd pass the AP test and not have to do it.
I was wrong, of course. I only got a 3 on the AP test, meaning by USF standards that I would, indeed, have to take LAR 111, or "Western Heritages," a kind of morphed reading/writing English-y class required for all freshmen. I dropped the math class I'd registered for, and got into the last section of comp that I could...two days before the start of school.
That class changed my life.
If I could pinpoint any singular college class that changed the direction of what I knew I could do, and how I could "matter" to the world, it was probably that class. Dr. Greg Dyer, a gregarious man who sat on the desk and called himself a cyborg (seriously, he said "I'm a cyborg. Can anyone tell me why?" in class one day), encouraged me to write and made me recall that encouragement I'd received from Mrs. Votaw way back during sophomore year. While I shudder to think back on some of those papers I turned in, Dr. Dyer consistently complimented me on my writing, all the while critiquing it (I had a bad habit of starting every paper with a quote. You can imagine how boring that got after awhile).
I remember one paper in particular. This paper was supposed to be "persuasive," so I wrote on the idea of evangelism - at the time I was getting heavily involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and was convinced that evangelism (as in, street evangelism, meeting strangers and telling them about the Lord) was one of the foremost duties of a Christian, so I wrote a paper about how even if you don't have a "gift" of evangelism, you're still called to do it.
Dr. Dyer commented on that paper that not only was it well-written, but it was "deceptively simple and convicting."
Not only had I written something that fulfilled the assignment completely, but I had actually persuaded the teacher on something. That's not something you do everyday. It was then, in that moment, that everything clicked. Writing was "it" all along. Writing is my gift, my skill, the thing I'm good at. Mom had been telling me that for years, but now I finally, really, truly believed it.
That realization prompted me to take more English classes, and though I never switched my major, I exercised my chance to write and to write persuasively at any given opportunity. I went to Oxford University on a study abroad because I wanted not only to experience a different world but to write more. An essay or two a week challenged me to write more and to do so quickly.
Writing was and is my way of "mattering" to the world.
I discovered that my words could move and convince people and change things. Though most of what I'm trained in is academic, I often expanded my audience beyond purely academics and talked to a broader demographic. My papers on No Country For Old Men, or John Locke expounded upon human ideals and how these things apply to one's life. The perception of evil in McCarthy changes how one can live their life, even if it's just in infinitesimal ways.
Writing and reading and, more importantly, narrative, changes lives.
But again, as I've stated before, it's a struggle for me with the desire to be famous for my writing. My writing is, ultimately, not an ability I have produced myself, but rather a natural talent I have taken the steps to hone. I owe my ability to persuade to all those who have gone before me, to the Spirit which guides my words and inspires, and to those situations around me which prompt my thinking. Writing is no longer my own personal way of "mattering" to the rest of the world, but merely the lens through which infinitesimal change is effected. My happiest moments with this blog are when it gets re-tweeted, shared, and passed on, because it means that there is potential change.
So, long way round, this blog initially started as a fund-raising tool for India, and now has become a platform through which I try to affect change. It is how I remind people of what matters, and how I remind myself. "Why I Write" is just as important as "what I write" and if you will continue to allow me a platform, I pray that my story will continue to be that of the crucified Lord, the Jesus who sacrificed himself for those who don't deserve it, and thus began (or finished?) the truest narrative in history: The story of Love.
And I hope you all are able to join me in telling that story.