Writing Is My Livelihood

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S.R.’s Story
How many times have I thought, That’s not what I meant or I don’t know what you mean?

I ask because I don’t know.

I have such a hard time making sense of things.

So I write, and I revise.

What I mean: I grew up with books. They were my best friends—and in many ways they still are. When I was left behind in the schoolyard, books taught me how to imagine, how to think, how to continue (against every influence to the contrary) to believe in magic. It wasn’t exactly the story that enticed me; it was the language. How words manage space and time and sensation with only a set of squiggly, bent lines. That’s alchemy.

Imagine: arrangements of words into fragments and sentences, then paragraphs, and suddenly there is a world reflective of (but not identical to) the one that inspired it. But more than anything, books teach me how to survive in a world that often fails to make sense to me.

If writing is catharsis, the art is in revision. Writing, according to Annie Dillard, is mining, finding a hunk of precious metal or a prettily colored gemstone and following the vein. As I write, I see where it takes me. Revision then is jewelry-making—tricking out a page, polishing it, decorating it. Putting down a glimmer, a little hint of how I see.

Several years after earning a Bachelor of Journalism in advertising from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, I began my graduate education in literary studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I hoped to find a way to make a living studying writing, exploring the things literature uncovers about us as readers, as a culture, as a society. But then I discovered for myself the essays of three remarkable writers: Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, and Susan Sontag. I had read some of their fiction before but never their nonfiction. They wrote sexy sentences about bewildering ideas.

I wanted to do that too.

So in an attempt to make some sense, if only a little, I write. And I write.

A bio pic by Joshua Foo

Photo by Joshua Foo

About S.R.
S.R. is a Presidential Graduate Fellow of the University of Nebraska and the recipient of
the Helen Hansen Outstanding Graduate Student Award (2013) and the Wardle, Spire, Lane English Graduate Fellowship (2011). His scholarly interests include creative nonfiction writing, his degree track; embodied composition, on which he will present at Conference on College Composition and Communication in Las Vegas in March; and Native American Studies. The culmination of his creative work at UNO is his creative thesis, Sediment: Memory & Forgetting, an exploration of the spaces where knowing, remembering, and forgetting intersect. His lyrical essay “Flea Market” is forthcoming in Prime Mincer (2013).