Why We Write Heroes

by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

In the plethora of articles on the anti-hero, few seem to acknowledge that the anti-hero, despite his/her questionable means and motives, is essentially good, and beyond that, still a hero. And, on some level, we know this.

Critics praise the anti-hero for being human and relatable, for screwing up. But, unlike most screw-ups (which we all are at some point or another), the anti-hero ultimately makes the selfless decision — and, because the anti-hero must atone for greater sins than his magnanimous counterpart — goes beyond being selflessness, and becomes self-sacrificing.

One could argue, and I often find myself doing so, that we write heroes because we want to believe that humans are intrinsically good: that the bad boy will clean up his act, that the deadbeat father will come home, that the distant mother will realize her failures. Films and novels with truly unlikable heroes fail. No one wants to read about the schmuck who continues to be a schmuck — even in our fictional serial killers we seek remorse, and, when they fail to show it, we label them psychopaths. So, I do not believe we can blame the necessity of relatability for our inhumanly benevolent characters.

When we are shown characters, especially of the sitcom or romance novel variety, who seamlessly succeed in, if not solving their faults, producing the proper emotional reactions, we begin to view our own failures of the heart and mind as uniquely person faults. Perhaps the true reason we seldom write wicked, remorseless protagonists, is because they are more difficult to write.

In writing the darker sides of human nature, one must reflect, without blotting out the parts that bring guilt and sadness, on one’s own weakness.

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Anxiety

by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

There is the moment of three am panic that arises when you has been sitting in Butler for far too long — three coffees deep, no reasonable excuse to stand up from the computer — when suddenly the cogs in your brain begin to turn, your fingers type without much cognitive processing and a paper is produced.

This anxiety is undeniably addictive. I often find myself saying, “Oh, it will get done; it always does.” And, in the Writer’s Process course, I was surprised, when our Professor acknowledged this panicked — if not procrastination fueled — method, as a valid writing process.

But, what happens when the cogs fail to turn? When you sit at your computer and three turns to four turns to five? When you find yourself drafting an email to the professor: “I find myself unable to write… Could I please have an extension… I’ve drafted and underlined… I’ve emailed the librarian…” and then finally, “I cannot write.”

This breaking point where no matter how many hours you dedicate to sitting in front of the computer with Facebook blocked and your phone silenced, where no matter how clear your outline is, you cannot form sentences, words maybe — something about juxtaposition — but definitely not phrases, is quit simply terrifying.

What do we do here. Yes, we call our mothers and cry. We may sit outside Butler and pick up chain smoking. We may even consider dropping out and becoming an organic farmer — and why don’t we. No, writing is a worthwhile endeavor. I believe, at least for me, this anxiety comes from the fear of judgement. You are here, and you believe, perhaps with some justification, that something is expected from you.

This thing expected from you becomes more abstract the more it is pressed upon. No, it cannot be beautiful language; that has been disproven by every tight-lipped professor red-lining through your self-indulgent use of adjectives. For a moment you may entertain that you are expected to be brilliant! You — a young Thoreau — must come up with something great! This too is a lie. That is too much to expect.

Writing is, in its truest form, communication. Write simply and write well (you can see above that I have failed). When I am not sure where to start I start with a quote. Rather than expecting something great from myself I expect something great from the author or the data. Be Hermes not Zeus (You see here that I’ve failed again.)

On Abstract Thought and Feeling Dissuaded

by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

I am often impressed by those who think in the abstract rather than concrete. As someone who can only think in the concrete, in language, and, even more specifically, in English, I sometimes feel trapped by words. It will be as though I feel an emotion or conclusion, but when I begin to prod at that feeling, it slips away. It’s like Pandora’s box, and I begin thinking, “No, not that. That is too big a concept; I will have to do something about it later.”

In the back of my head, cold water spills down like some hundreds of half-opened thoughts too big for me to finish, and they remain; under the cold water, they freeze. Sometimes these thoughts come back to me in pieces. I remember last week, walking under the bridge connecting EC to main campus, it occurred to me… something about Ancient Greeks and time (perhaps whether they thought they had magic, or whether, like us, they imagined someone before them had magic and they lost it—although probably not that, as it was something I could not research the answer to). I remember feeling that thought was too big for the linguistic confines of my mind, and then I shut it down. Even after shutting it down, that thought haunted me. It tasted like hope, and in closing myself off from it, I kept myself from feeling something good. Often these thoughts are personal: I may begin to realize there is something off in my life, and then, when that sensation begins, I learn to hold the two things in my head at once, and I close the thought. I tell myself that language is no space for gray area—words are clearly delineated. Meaning can be found, and seldom is the connotation positive and negative.

So, when a friend said that she, an abstract thinker, is frustrated when she can draw a form to show what she means but cannot write or say it, her words took me aback. I assumed that abstraction is freedom. That if only I could escape words, those rotten things, then I would be free to comprehend my emotions, but with comprehension comes a barrier. If you truly understand your own sentiment, if you fearlessly open the box of complex and contrary emotions, of ideas that deserve form but are not concrete, you become isolated. Communication is difficult (that is why Writing and Speaking Fellows exist), but communication of concepts requiring abstraction is even more difficult.

So. How does one communicate ideas that exist beyond language? Perhaps I, a concrete thinker, am not best to attack this problem as I often shy away from the grayer parts of thought. But for the sake of those thoughts I previously discarded, I will consider the problem.

It is true, yes, language has limits. It is the game of language: to find its bends and breaks, to see the gaps between words, the spaces we have not yet reached. So I propose not disentangling the abstract thought—but prodding it like you would a painting (figuratively, of course), or music, or a poem you do not yet understand. Apply a word to that abstract thought. How does that word fit, what does it hide, where does it fail, how can you qualify its failures, and how can you highlight its successes?

Now apply another word to fit between that word and the abstract meaning still hidden. Think of it as a piecemeal process. For me, I quit when I grow frustrated with the words in my head, worse when I must hold all the inadequacies of those words in my head as well. Write those words and their inadequacies down. Write down what works—and what doesn’t.

If you cannot find the words to express the thing, then write down what that thing is not. Perhaps, like music, the meaning will finally arise in the negative spaces.

Why Write?

An exploration of why we write and the difference between academic and creative writing

by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

The act of writing outside the academic can become a nebulous, emotional territory. Entrenched in one’s head, it is easy to lose sight of purpose. Why do we write creatively? Is it an act of catharsis, of battling one’s own duende on the page? Or is it beyond that—must writing be external to be valid?

The Writing Fellows Program relies on the philosophy that all writers need a reader. So, opening the email containing my sixth rejection letter of the year, I consider, for whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, I can stop submitting writing. If I am writing for someone else, I should change my writing style to be something my peers want to read. Instead, I attempt to balance the two, oscillating between extreme adaption (I will write what you want) and extreme rejection (I will write octaves about plants).

This process leaves me exhausted and melancholic. I am left with mangled poems that are either too detached from my reality to be valid—or too personal to be read. When a student leaves the Writing Center feeling hopeful about her work, I am uplifted. This is why we write! Writing is neither for the self nor the other. Writing, regardless of content, is expression before communication. Yes, when we write academically, we seek to teach our ideas to the reader, but when writing for the sake of writing, for the art of it, we seek instead genesis—whether our material is new or recycled, it is something of creation.

When students stop me mid-question to ask what the professor wants them to say, I find myself at an impasse. Yes, the professor, being merely human, has goals and expectations—as much as they may try to be unbiased—and cannot transform into a neutral reader. But do not write what you think the professor wants. The writing produced by this filter is stilted. Write intelligently; write a response to the text and the questions raised between it and the discussion. I bite my tongue; there is a necessary space in academic writing between the art and the task.

Returning, then, to the purely artistic writing, we are freed. There is no task here—nothing to prove nor answer. And while we are released, we are also relieved of direction. Direction must come from the internal. Thus, we are back to the difficult questions to consider through writing: What is this? What are you doing? Who are you?

Proceed.