I just purchased Three Islands by Micah Ling. Its a pretty intersting amalgamation of poetry and exploration of juxtaposed historical characters. I once had an English course with Micah as professor. Hers’ was one of my most memorable courses at University. It felt strangely non-academic, but somehow facilitated some fantastic writing from a handful of the students. I think that the most important take-away was about having something to say. If there is something worth conveying, then the writing just sort of happens. I can’t remember if I came to the realization on my own during the course or if she made a point of it, but craft always follows perspective. It’s the reason for Faulkner’s genius and the existence of high school English teachers.
I remember she never corrected my punctuation, which made me feel pretty good. She did hate the passive voice, I remember, and I’m still pretty lazy about correcting it. To be truthful, I still have to look back at my old grammar handbook that I was forced to purchase five years ago to even realize the difference.
If you want to find someone passionate about what they do, seek out an adjunct professor. I remember one of the greatest feelings I had at school was receiving a paper back from her with no markings until the last page, which just had an A circled in red ink. I am not sure if she was just busy or rushed and didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but that can make a kid feel pretty stupendous. It was validation for a guy that really wasn’t all that confident yet. I remember that I spent hours and hours pouring over ever sentence and every paragraph the two nights leading up to turning it in, and it wasn’t because I was fascinated with the research or really wanted to learn, but rather, for the first time, I had something to say. Something important, that seemed urgent at the time, the sort of work that made writing feel more like uncovering an artifact that had always been there but no one had ever taken the time to be seen. I entered that essay into the campus literary journal in 2009, and it ended up being my first published work.
I think now of what I want my life to look like in five and ten years. I’ve wondered for a while what book I would choose to write if the opportunity came. I have always wanted to be John Gierach, because I think essays and short stories are so crafty and convey such skill. I guess the novel would be great, but I am not sure that I have the stones for fiction and I’m really not much of a story-teller. More importantly, the question is and should be, what book is your life writing? What do you have to actually say? And I think that I’m ok with ‘I don’t know’ for now.
A review of Three Islands to follow.