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Braided Writing

Just the other day, a good friend of mine put me on to a paper he had encountered for class. He mentioned it might be up my ally because he enjoyed it and it had to do with writing, and naturally, he nailed it.

The paper he sent along to me was called: A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay by Brenda Miller. After doing some research I found that she is a Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University. Her paper uses meta techniques to show, lyrically, how an essay is constructed out of parts of other things. It uses the analogy of making bread, particularly the Challah, bread of the Jewish Sabbath. The author weaves information about bread-making and writing and teaching all together just like the woven Challah.

The paper really caught me off guard with its brutal honesty. It reminded me of the extreme vulnerability that comes with storytelling. Let me give you a taste of some of it:

Writing has always—and always will, I'm sure—scared the hell out of me. I'll do just about anything to get out of it, and have been known to spend whole afternoons circling my desk like a dog, wary, unwilling to commit to writing a single word. What is so frightening about it? I still don't know. Perhaps it's the horrible knowledge that no matter how well you write, the resultant product will never correlate exactly to the truth, will never arrive with quite the melodious voice you hear in the acoustic cavity of your mind.

Sometimes I read something so honest, so transparent, and it reminds me that we’re all made of the same stuff. Humans, of course, but writers especially. A lot of us share a similar mindset, and we are afraid of the same things—things as silly as beginning something. Something of our own creation. I know I get scared when it is time to write, and maybe Miller is right. I know that I will never finish writing something and think, “This is exactly how I envisioned it in my mind.” Life doesn’t work that way.

But, I do think that it is important—necessary even—that we do it anyway. Because that’s what it is all about. Telling our stories regardless of who will read them and what they will think about it. We must tell our stories. Even if they are uncomfortable and complicated. As writers, not only must we find the courage to start, but we must also find the courage to be vulnerable in our writing. One could argue that being vulnerable is one of the hardest things one can do, and I’d have to agree.

She concludes her paper with:

What I'm hoping, for the students that remain, is that the idea of braiding has entered us, become a viable, perhaps natural, way of shaping our material, and even our lives, for the brief ten weeks we'll be together. What I'm hoping is that by the eating of this bread together we begin to respond to a hunger unsatisfied by everyday food, unvoiced in everyday language. We'll begin to formulate a few separate strands; we'll mull them over, roll them in our hands, and bring them together in a pattern that acts as mouthpiece to the sacred.

This last thought Miller left me with has been bouncing around in my brain since I read it. I can’t stop thinking about it. The human experience is a braided one. One moment folding over another, one thought rolling into the next. A continuous braid until we cross over the horizon of death (sorry to get a little ominous here lol). But our writing must be braided as well. Because the better we get at translating our fleeting and complicated thoughts and experiences, the better stories we can tell. And I don’t know about you, but I want to tell the best stories I possibly can.

Here is a link to essay if you’d like to give it a read yourself. My wish is that it inspires you to keep going like it has inspired me.

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