Saturday, October 8, 2011

A writer's Beginnings Eudora Welty

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It is the writer’s mind that fascinates me. What is it she’s seen, and felt, and learned, to write something that keeps the reader, that stays and lives with them? What is this giving?

Eudora Welty led such a private life that I wonder about her thoughts and how she chooses to share them. A story is more than words, images, and ideas; it is a living vision. How does she go about capturing that vision? Why?

“All serious daring starts from within,” she writes at the end of One Writer’s Beginnings. It is true; we all learn this, but only after much inner struggle. To write well we must not fear our own thoughts and feelings, we must be willing and courageous enough to recognize and expose them. The human mind is the source of attraction because it is a mystery to even ourselves. The only way to get inside another is to understand, as much as one can, the nature of it. Welty is a keen observer, and I believe that she was an observer first, then a writer. It is evident in her writing that she has explored and questioned the workings of the human mind�what lingers, what burns, what hides and falls away. That is how she affects us.

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Take, for example, The Optimist’s Daughter, in which Laurel confronts the shadow of her life�all that she was oblivious to. It took her entire life, the death of her parents and the forfeiting of the trinkets of that past to understand her parents as people, not the magnanimous figures she saw them as in her youth. She needed the aid of personal, independent experience to attach to her new thinkings and discoveries.

To be capable of encapsulating this type of growth or epiphany in a novel, Welty herself must have learned the same lesson as Laurel. There must have come a time in Welty’s life when she was brought to the realization that as much as she is human, and flawed, so are the ones who fostered her. And that only time and circumstance can enlighten the new perspective that changes or adds to the sequence of life.

I suppose she always knew she’d be a writer. She doesn’t speak of a doubt or discovery that indeed she was a writer; she simply wrote. But it had to begin somewhere-- with reading, most probably. Finding intrigue in the written word, it must have begun there, in the letter of that children’s story book. Reading bore a love of another’s view�the prospect of another world and its beauty, differences and similarities between it and the living world. She must have wondered how one world translates to another. Is this enough to drive a person to write or is there something more to it?

For me it is a pursuit � to write. It seems I must find within myself the evidence that I look, listen and imagine as only a writer can. It wasn’t until recently that I acknowledged that it is possible my passion is rooted in a source, though nameless and far from my consciousness, I have always hosted. I never considered myself a reader in my youth. I don’t remember forming a strong devotion to words early on. I never asked for books for Christmas. I was more concerned with toys and other frivolous objects that I’d later carelessly discard. But I do recall a moment, when I was in a grade low enough to still have library class, and to be intimidated by that beyond the picture books. Ms. Amarosa led me alone to those tall and scary stacks and ran her finger across the spines of a low shelf of books. They were all one color rusted by the sun, and I couldn’t tell just by looking at the covers I would enjoy them. They smelled different, like a secret I could open at will and be comforted. I can’t remember exactly what she told me in a whisper, but there remains a sense of pride in that memory. In late middle school I poured myself into quick books with elaborate covers especially for youths (Blume, R.L. Stein, and Babysitters Club). I gave them my Saturdays. As I grew I gave them more time, but not because I loved them�because I needed them. I was not drawn to words but instead thoughts�someone else’s thoughts. I needed to escape the frustration of my own. It wasn’t until high school before I finally appreciated reading as a gift. I was immersed in the feeling of a foreign world; I respected it, and was inspired to create ones of my own.

“My imagination takes its strength and guides its direction from what I see and hear and learn and feel and remember of my living world. But I was to learn slowly that both these worlds, outer and inner were different from what they seemed to me in the beginning. ”

Welty exposed me to how the truth is revealed only when all the perspectives have been examined. Life is not always how we see or believe it to be in the moment for we only know our own thoughts. When it comes to writing memoir I understand the importance of perspective. While I journal my life, the things I write in retrospect are significantly more accessible because I’ve had time to look from a distance. I know what’s happened and I don’t have to feel vulnerable expressing my thoughts; there’s safety in distance. Nothing is lost to the memory�we learn new things from the resorting. Is that what a writer does? Is living as a writer, living as an observer�removed yet tangled in the midst of it all�to later mull over the situation until it makes sense?

“Life does not hold still,” Welty says. She “felt the need to hold transient life in words�there is so much more of life that only words can convey ”. Or does it begin here, with the belief that words are tools, and when in the hands of a master, can be used to transcend time and the living mind? Does she feel a responsibility, with this knowledge, to share the poignant moments she is privy to? Is it her goal to give her readers certain thoughts, to bring them to certain conclusions about humans and life? Is that my goal?

In “Where Is the Voice Coming From,” Welty gives her readers little choice as to how to feel. She brings us into the thoughts of a racist murderer; the voices in our minds must speak his words.

“There was one way left, for me to be ahead of you and stay ahead of you, by Dad, and I just taken it. Now I’m alive and you ain’t. We ain’t never now, never going to be equals and you know thy? One of us is dead ”.

She is giving her readers her horror of the situation, letting it live with us, perhaps in hopes that it will change us and the way we think. She is very powerful with her tool, able to make us uncomfortable, uneasy; but is that her only goal? Or is it that there was something awful tainting her thoughts and mood that she felt the only way to divert the course of her thoughts was to hold them intensely in the form of a story? Which is it, release or sharing? Either is courageous.

Perhaps it is both. In Welty’s first published story “Death of a Traveling Salesman” she tells the story of a man who has worked most of his life with nothing to show for it. You would think that after such a steady, manageable existence, Bowman would have figured out what it is he wanted form life and gotten if for himself. Was he too concerned with the duty of work that his identity, his living, and feeling remained centered around his job? Was Welty’s idea to juxtapose the life of a determined businessman and the life of a couple in the middle of nowhere that has nothing but love and generosity? Bowman dies knowing he has none of their virtues, that his heart is empty of all one truly needs to survive. Did Welty realize upon forming this story that the human life is worthless without the simple love and contentment that couple possessed, was it her realization before it was Bowman’s? Does she write this story because she must sort her thoughts about it? Is she suggesting that the rest of the world think about it as well? There are parts where Bowman’s heart has palpitations loud enough that he can hear his pulse in his head. It is as if he becomes closer to his loneliness in these times, so close he can hear it between the beats. In One Writer’s Beginnings Welty mentions, almost nonchalantly, that she has two streams of inspiration, one light and the other dark. Is “Death of a Traveling Salesman” a product of the dark stream? What was Welty’s loneliness?

There is a strong feeling of loneliness in “Livvie” as well. Livvie fills her solitary days with house work and cooking, achieving some sort of ease, through the familiarity of the tasks. Essentially she represents the peach on the bottle tree, limited, restrained. Is that reminiscent of Welty’s own sentiment at the time she first saw the bottle tree? What brought her to knowing that trapped feeling�living under the command of some distant whisper to have all comfort uprooted by the uninvited visitors that remind you there is an exit, and existence beyond the boundaries of whatever is trapping. It isn’t until the cosmetics lady appears at the door and exposes Livvie to make-up, something new, and she is able to leave the house where almost immediately she is confronted with temptation, Cash. She seems more solid when she appears before her husband, though still meek; somehow the new freedom made her stronger and braver. Where did Welty discover that?

I don’t believe I’ve drawn any clear conclusions about Welty and why she writes. There really is no way to tell without asking outright, and even if it were possible to ask, would Welty be able to explain herself? I want to believe that she wrote because she loved words and the worlds they create and the meaning they hold, the power they have over an individual. She was simply fascinated with the translation of one world to another; it gave her comfort, and delight, I am sure. And perhaps she grew to love that vulnerability, the risk of possible shame, inherent to giving your passion all you have, even for an audience of one.

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