Real Literature

I was probably doomed to drop out of college from the first moment I set foot in a literature class. I loved the poems and stories we called literature. Through them I found a portal into life as I felt it, but often lost sight of in the hurly-burly of every day. Fortunately, my high school English classes did nothing to interfere with this love. My teachers’ expectations were very low—if we read the entire play or novel and seemed to understand what happened, they were happy. In college, however, we analyzed literature. This analysis confused me. My experience of the stories and poems and plays occurred entirely within me. What I saw I saw within me, what I felt I felt within me, and what I learned I learned within me. Meanwhile, the literature was taught as a thing outside of us. How else could you teach it? It was as if these stories were puzzles for which there was some right answer.

It all got very murky in my mind. I could analyze with the best of them. Analysis felt like a very grownup way to understand whether something was true. I wanted to be a grownup. But it did not feel good to analyze something I loved. If I loved something, that love should not be up for debate or analysis or a passing grade. Though I know this was never my professors’ intention, there were days in those classes when I felt as if I were being asked to question whether I ever had or could love anyone or anything.

The problem is that love is so fast and analysis is slow. The artist is always aiming his or her arrow past the mind and to the heart, where knowing happens faster than thought. You finish a poem or book and there it is, something come alive again within you. What just happened, your mind asks? How did this sorcerer weave this magic? The mind does not like magic. And so back you go to pull that book apart and find the cause that brought this effect. But it is not there. The more you pull the book apart, the less you find. It is as if the book itself has no meaning. Now you must make a choice. Now you must decide what you will call real and what you will call imaginary.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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