I think it was.
It does not escape me that Hoffman’s Hunger fed a growing hunger in me for a deeper education. All signs this year led me to that conclusion, from my brief frenzied dive into modern economics, political history and American anti-intellectualism to my final December read of Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction. I can’t disagree with this idea:
"The notion of the novelist as gifted savage dies hard, even in English Departments. (Perhaps it dies hard especially in English departments – for if Faulkner was a wise man of letters like thee and me, why have we not written great novels? Further, department scholars may doubt their own methods, their students, and especially their colleagues so much that they deny that anyone ever connected with that world could produce a novel worth reading.) It breaks our American hearts to learn that Updike was an English major. We wish to forget that Thoreau, like Updike and Mailer, was graduated from Harvard, and that Walt Whitman spent his life in his room studying and rewriting, and that Willa Cather lived among the literati in Greenwich Village, and that Melville left the sea at twenty-five. The will to believe in the fiction writer as Paul Bunyan is shockingly strong; it is emotional, like to will to believe in Bigfoot, the hairy primate who stalks the western hills, or in the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, by the time the media had worked on Hemingway, he was scarcely distinguishable from Bigfoot, or less popular – and Dylan Thomas, that sentimental favorite, was the Loch Ness Monster. The assumption that the fiction writer is any sort of person but one whose formal education actually taught him something is particularly strong in this country; our democratic anti-intellectual tradition and our media cult of personality dovetail on this point and press it home, usually with full cooperation from writers.
In opposition to all this romance, I say that academic literary criticism is very influential: students listen to critics. What student does not read fiction for one course or another? And who is writing fiction these days who has not been to college?"
Lest the writers who may be reading this take offense to such bold myth smashing, just think on it. She’s talking, of course about writers in the class of those she’s mentioned and like Bellow, Roth, Chekov, Borges, Chomsky, Dostoevsky, Ellison, Garcia Marquez, Hamsun, Joyce, Lessing, et al.
Not many writers come close to creating what these people have, and not many want to. The vast majority of readers who are not critics wouldn’t be interested in reading such works if they existed. But despite the small probability of creating what could be art and the even smaller odds that it might be read and appreciated, it’s still a bold, unrealistic and probably delusional aim for some.
It’s been a year now since I first began work on a novel called The Foundling Wheel and as of today, it’s treading water after twenty-four messy chapters and 52,973 words. In the beginning, I thought I’d finish a first draft in six months, and then I thought it would be a year. I haven’t added to it since early October, but I haven’t abandoned it. It’s still very much alive and I intend to finish it.
What’s given me trouble since the beginning is much larger than the story itself, although that’s given me problems too. If you were to ask me some time ago why I was writing it, I couldn’t tell you, nor could I say what I was trying to accomplish in the work, beyond simply telling a story. Sometimes telling a story is enough. For me with this, it’s not.
I can almost answer the question now.
I learned to trust myself much more this year. Oddly, (or at least I think it’s odd) I was not self-conscious about sharing my work with other people when I first began blogging and taking classes, but as time has passed, I’ve grown more confident in my ability to assess what I’m doing and less inclined to ask other people to do it for me. It stands to reason that until I’ve worked out what it is I’m trying to do and precisely how I’m going to do it that there’s no point in asking another person to judge whether or not I’ve succeeded.
What interests me most is – everything about human beings. I’m interested in philosophy, sociology, culture, religion and psychology. I’m interested in history and economics and technology. I know a little about a few things, but I want much more.
The subject matter for my blog posts will be much more focused in 2009. My reading choices will be much more intentional. I’m on a quest to educate myself on all of those things that, even if I had gone to college and pursued a liberal education as a girl, would not have had the impact on me then that they will now.
I’ll never be a scholar or an academic or an intellectual and I don’t aspire to any of those things, but I can be a more literate thinker.
Whether it makes me a better writer or not remains to be seen. I think it will.