Sunday, June 3, 2012

I am a product of my past. My identity may or may not be built around some inherent, undetermined core of individuality or personality, but the raw materials of my identity are beyond my control. The people I've known, the education I've received, chance encounters, campfire stories, the pattern of light filtering through leaves on the wall of my childhood home: one doesn't need to be a determinist to agree that my past constitutes the experiential palette from which my present is painted. There are episodes in my history I may downplay, strive against, forget, or wish to forget. However, not only is it impossible to unexperience these episodes, my own desire to obliterate them is itself evidence of the shaping force they have exerted upon my character. This is true of all of us.

I identified this theme of determinism and the inescapability of the past in all of the texts I produced for my creative writing class this semester. In particular, I found that I was exploring the way that our lives are shaped and constrained by the decisions and behavior of other people. 

In keeping with this theme, I generated the final text of my semester protfolio in a (for me) novel way: I drafted a short story, and then deleted a number of key words and phrases. Then, I read the story aloud to my classmates, and invited them to choose words and phrases to replace those I had deleted. I committed both to my classmates and to myself that I would preserve their language in my final submitted draft. This writing process mirrors the way an individual's identity is formed: as the author, I can revise so that the language I received fits elegantly or grammatically into the story the same way that a person has a degree of control over how they interpret or react to their past experiences, but those words, like those experiences, can't be erased. 

Without exaggeration, I can say that as a writer, the prospect of relinquishing control over my text was frightening. As expected, the students chose language that I would not have, and as such the story is definitionally not up to my standards. The experience has had precisely the effect for which I had hoped: it has put into sharp focus the extent to which my life is out of my control, and reminded me just how scary that can be. It has also raised an interesting question: to what extent does this story actually differ from any other story I have written? I didn't invent each word that I use. The worlds I describe in my writing consist of components I have experienced elsewhere. The tiny subset of a universe of infinite possibility that is available to me to include in my writing has always been chosen for me, hasn't it? 

The story is after the jump. I have chosen not to highlight the students' additions -- I think it would be a cop-out.