I was moderating a panel the other night with Jennie Shortridge, Deb Caletti, Erica Bauermeister, and Garth Stein, and noticed that the subject of intelligence came up a number of times. These writers would all be shelved under literary fiction, which I mention only because intelligence – that is, academic, critical-thinking, scientific intelligence – are frequently linked to the people who write and read literary fiction. In fact, Chris Cleave, in our interview following the release of Little Bee, half-jokingly referred to literary fiction as, “Fiction for smart people.” But it was Erica Bauermeister, a former literature professor at the University of Washington, who also pointed that criticism, the ability to see and articulate what is wrong with something or someone, is also frequently seen as a sign of intelligence. What is the literary writer to do, then, if she does not merely want to criticize life but to actually celebrate it?
I say celebrate away. Within the heart of every pessimist, of every critic, of every rapier-witted social commentator, there hides a terrified optimist. She is terrified by the very hope that sustains her. She is terrified because to build a world she loves she must first trust its value before she has laid even one brick, a value she knows full well critics the world over will doubt the moment she utters word one.
Welcome to the world of the writer; welcome to the human race. Sometimes we must raze a building to erect a new one, but our world is not made through elimination and rejection alone. At some point we must say yes. At some point we must declare what we love and what we desire and where we want to go. When we do, all else is forgotten and forgiven, like the books we did not buy on a trip to the bookstore. When we say yes, intelligence is freed to meet creation, its sole companion in the story of life.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.