by Jeff Thomas
It’s been a strange year. I don’t plan. It’s just not one of those things that I seem to know how to do. My life has advanced to this point mostly because I roll out of bed in the morning and choose to do things that I like doing. Some causality exists between events that have happened recently in my life, but it is odd making sense of the connective tissue. In April of 2021, a board of accomplished journalism and public relations professionals selected me to be the Editor-in-Chief of The Oakland Post. To me, it seemed very strange. A few weeks ago, my professor, Susan McCarty Ph.D., told me I was selected as one of OAR’s Poetry Editors. Again, a strange occurrence. Editing and publishing are interesting—certainly I have my methods and opinions about them, but more than anything, I like writing. I like people who like to write and care about writing. The written word has been the doorway to me being able to enjoy the life that I do. I’ve become part of this undergraduate writing community, so this blog post is about what I think we accomplish when writing, and what writing means to me.
Now that we’re writers, all we can do is our best. Words have meaning because we bleed them from our lives. Our writing matters because we make it matter, because we force it through the lens that pulls us closer to ourselves. Creative writing is not a rhetorical exercise; leave that to the lawyers and the businessmen. The words we deal with are true life, and in life, perseverance counts. Every page and every line, every failed attempt at using a semicolon and every comma splice, is a step towards the real. There’s no success like failure. We must write the bad stuff to write the good stuff, and the good stuff is what’s closer to the self. Of course the process of writing is exploratory. Even the things we’ve lived and felt most personally carry a new weight of realness when committed to written word. This phenomenon is why we often find ourselves returning to old subjects, writing the same moments in new stories and fresh poems. We’re still reaching for more, learning ourselves, taking whatever it is that’s important to us and trying to comprehend why we feel the way that we do. When we write, we arrive at a place closer to understanding; we see with eyes greater than the ones on the front of our heads.
Life is great in the present. The events of our everyday lives are profound. The moments in between moments are what we miss the most; that’s where the comfort is. Just being present is a hell of a thing. Unfortunately as students, most of us have to live fast. It’s always onto the next project, and when there are moments of pause, it’s hard not to look back. Personally, I’m constantly worried about the future and grieving the past. It’s a condition not all that uncommon among us writers. So when it’s time to write, it can be awfully hard to know where to start. The emotions can be enormous; what we want to describe is often too huge to hold onto. Depression, grief, anxiety, pain, loneliness, desire, fear are ideas so big they can pick us up and sail away. The temptation is there to reach outside of ourselves, to dig for generalities and harvest cliché. So how do we stay in the moment and keep our feet on the ground? How do we tell our singular truth? The way to get to the heart of what we want to express is to find something small enough to grab. The linoleum floor. The old tin thumbtack. The melted tube of chapstick in the center console of your car. Whatever it takes to put you in the moment, to open the door to the room.
Everything is the obstacle to my writing. Work, relationships, YouTube, my relationship with YouTube, fatigue, the slow slumping of my shoulders bringing my head and neck down;gravity itself piles on. All of this before we even get to my own inadequacies. You know I’ve got no imagination. I know the stove is hot because I’ve touched the stove. This is the extent of my knowledge. Things have to be grounded, in some way, to the tangible or I’m left spinning in a blank space. This obstacle is everything to my writing.
I operate in a little room, a beautiful place. And so this week has been a good week; today has been a good day. I am grateful to have even written this post. Because no matter what, it always feels better to have written than to have not. So don’t quit writing, ‘cause writing won’t quit you. What we do is for life, so take care of yourself. Find your voice and don’t get discouraged. It can feel like we’re around for such a short while, but it is a long time. There’s always more to explore. Stay grounded, chase the heart of the thing. People matter. Actions matter. Words matter. Kindness matters. The hand extended to the person who doesn’t know what you do, it all matters. We stand on the podium where chests shake, voices shutter, tears or laughter fill and occupy entire rooms. Now that we’re writers, our best is all that we can do.