I miss the South. There is an honesty to that place. Of course, it has its contradictions, like everywhere. But I miss the simplicity, the drudgery, the way my older professors spoke.
Alright y’all. Listen up. She places her fingertips on a stack of typed papers, I can see the top page, with its red arrows and X-ed out paragraphs and scribbled suggestions in the margin. These papers weren’t y’alls best. I’d reckon you’d better try again. More revisions this time. We sigh and slouch further into our seats. She smiles . Oh, quit yer hollerin’. You’re fine. Y’all are writers, this is what we do.
Thankfully this happened when we were seniors, so by that time we were broken and somewhat egoless when it came to the words we slaved on to a page. We were used to that, being told that we didn’t do our best work. After four years of the creative writing department at a school in rural south Georgia I was tired and hopeless even, hungover from whiskey and late nights of attempted creations, but I was writing every day and I hadn’t felt that much like myself ever before in my life.
It had never been so apparent that I was from California until Peter Christopher handed back my first story that I wrote for his Magical Realism class. Entire passages had lines piercing through their entirety, all of my adjectives were circled, and on the last page PC wrote:
Six drafts off? Sloppy? I had never received a C on something creative before, I was used to getting A’s on art projects and writing assignments with very little effort, not because I was producing stellar work, but probably because the California teachers were afraid of stifling our creative energy with something that could get us grounded like a bad grade. But the fact of the matter is that I painted some pretty shitty pictures and wrote some really dumb stories back in the day (still do). The funny part is that when I handed in this particular story, the one with the letter C on its last page, I thought it would be The Story that propelled me into famous writerdom, that I would be That Nineteen Year Old that wrote something epic for a college writing course that got published and published and published some more, that the rest of my life would be spent wearing glasses and chunky sweaters while I holed up in my office with a bottle of red table wine and lots of strong coffee, the world impatiently waiting for My Next Story. Instead I was riding my bike really fast by the lake on campus that was thick with mosquitoes, I was sweaty and I was crying.
Peter Christopher’s Magical Realism class was the first upper level writing course I ever enrolled in. Magical Realism is an interesting genre, where magic elements are included into the otherwise normal and mundane backdrop of everyday life. It’s not fantasy or sci-fi, like a lot of folks think it is, it’s more understated than that, more honest. It is my favorite genre to write and I think, in slight ways, it’s all I’ve ever written.
When I met with PC in his Newton Building office, I remember the sunken couch, how the windows were fogged up and it was gray outside. I don’t remember entirely what he said to me about my story. It was just too fluffy, too many adjectives, too idealistic, too many frills and wordy language tricks in an attempt to write with some kind of beauty, but not enough truth, there was nothing real about it, there was too much glitter.
Go for the jugular, he would tell us.
Say something only you can say about living and dying.
And with this, he raised a group of writers who were writing these stories that in any other case would be considered boring and trivial, but he taught us how to write magic into it all, in doing the dishes and sitting at the DMV. As I wrote in this fashion, suddenly my everyday life got lit on fire, there was an intensity to it, I was burning like the sun. I was so hungry and full of craving. I saw magic everywhere.
That’s what I miss. California is obsessed with being happy, creating shells of hip clothes and teeth that are too white. Where’s the truth? I miss the truth. We’re afraid of it over here. I miss it because that’s where the magic lies.
This is a letter I received from one of my creative writing classmates when I graduated from college:
Hey Georgie, ya know i was thinking i’d drop you a line sometime seeings how you’re graduating and publishing your stuff these days. You’re really cooking. I guess i don’t know you all that well Georgie–other than that class with Peter that seems in some ways like it was yesterday to me, and the chance meetings at the RAC– but i have a sense about you. You’ll do great things Georgie, and you’ll go by your own definitions of what it means to live. For me, my wife and writing and perhaps even being a medic will always be apart of this–they are not three separate things, but one way of SEEING. Is this too not art? All I really know of you is that you are a fine writer, you have kindness in you, and you like rock climbing. I hope you find a way for them all. Eventually it will get harder, but my money is on you to follow through with what sets you on fire–i guess this is the aforementioned sense i get from you. Here is the truth: One night on my way to Big Sur I was asleep on a roadside picnic table with a knife clutched in my hand when a Strange man woke me and said, “If I told you not to do what you think the world needs but to go and do what makes you come alive would you do it– knowing that what the world needs are people who have come alive.” He was bug-eyed, dirty clothes, and had no idea how close he was to death when he startled me. After all I had the sharp blade concealed under my sleeping bag. But I’d never seen an intensity like this–probably the deepest the world has ever known. He was perhaps crazy, but then these are the people that I burn for. Find a way Georgie.
Magical Realism: a way of SEEING. Look around you. It’s everywhere. It’s all on fire.
Find a way.