Rose Dyar, Writing Consultant
“Carry our stories carefully
Wrap them in soft red cloth
and place them against your
heart.” -Yolanda Chávez Leyva
Here at the Writing Center, we deal in the study of words and stories. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how to explain why I think that’s so special, how to explain the link I see between words and justice, and how I honored I am to work with writers as they make meaning.
So here goes a humble attempt to begin such an explanation.
I believe that the study of words (e.g. literature, poetry, rhetoric) is critical to the ongoing formation of the whole human person. A bold claim, I know, but let me elaborate. This endeavor has the potential to infuse beauty and feeling and empathy into a world that actively attempts to numb us to our own humanity. And because of that, it has the radical potential to change hearts and minds. I mean radical change in two ways.
First, the etymological term. To change something radically means to change it at its root. The study of words grants us the gift of insight, or the ability to see inside of thing, to see the systems and structures that manifest themselves into parts of our daily lives, which then make their way into the stories that we read. When we know what we’re looking at, we know how to ask questions about it. Studying words and studying writing, then, gives context to social and political conditions that engender joy and suffering in our lives.
Second, I speak of words and radical change in terms of impact. We often use the word radical in order to describe major change, of the shifting of norms. And radical change necessitates action on its behalf. Which brings me to my next point. The study of words allows us to disrupt the laws of physics, to become alchemists, to remove ourselves from the center of our own axes and ask what it might take to imagine life otherwise. Empathy and understanding are byproducts of encountering stories. Empathy and understanding create conditions for change to happen.
But here is what the study of words cannot do: move on its own or by itself. Words alone do not have the arms or legs or beating hearts to use in order to advocate for change. If it is to be involved with any sort of moving, those who study the impact of words and writing must embody its movement. If we are moved by a text, we must move to make a difference. The study of words for me, then, must be paired with the willingness to act, or write, for change.
Writing and reading allow us to cross borders. We transcend from the moved to the mover and enter into a space of our own making when we do it. We are, all of us, in the wilderness. We are, all of us, voices crying out wanting to be heard from the thickets of that wilderness. We are, all of us, beholden and held by the power of words. For me, the study of words necessarily asks of me the courage to speak and write ideas and identities into existence, into being. We carry stories with us. We carry them tenderly, we carry them fiercely, and we tell them purposefully.
I believe that we tell stories, to ourselves and to each other, in order to understand what it means to be human, and it how it is that we can come to be fully human together. I believe that each story that is told is, in some part, an act of revelation. I believe that at every turn, stories are verbalized negotiations of power. I believe that we are all of us telling stories all the time, every day. Each story uncovers, even if just a sliver more, how the human experience is lived and breathed and understood in one moment, in one context, by one storyteller.
What a gift it is to encounter these stories, to study these words, to work with writers as they make sense of the stories inside of them.