“My Work is to Explain My Heart” – A. Papatya Bucak on Her Brevity Essay

January 31, 2014 § 5 Comments


Photo by Jennifer Podis

A. Papatya Bucak on the origins of her recent Brevity essay, “An Address to My Fellow Faculty Who Have Asked Me to Speak About My Work.”

At the university where I teach, I am one of seven creative writing faculty.  This is a wealth.  Add to that the fact that many of my scholarly colleagues also write creatively, that my dean is a pianist, that I have other colleagues who are painters and sculptors and so on.  You’d think I’d never have to explain myself.  But I do.  I have been repeatedly turned down for college research grants; one of my colleagues, far far more accomplished than I am, has, in the past, been prevented from teaching graduate courses because she does not hold a terminal degree.  So last spring when I was asked to participate in what my college calls a Faculty Accomplishment Festival, in which various professors speak on their “research,” I decided I would do exactly that.  I took the time to write a sincere and honest explanation of what I do.  And nobody showed up.  The only people at this so-called festival were the other presenters and the various department chairs and deans and eventually the provost, though she came late.

So I read my sincere and honest explanation of what I do in a kind of fury, which I have not yet let go of.  People were nice about it.  One guy recently said, “That was intimidating.”  But again, soon after, I was turned down for another research grant (maybe I just don’t write a good application, who knows).

So what do I do?  Stop explaining?  I live in a state where the governor wants students to be charged more for taking humanities courses; I’m not sure I have the luxury.

I published this essay in  Brevity because I knew the magazine would provide a good home for it.  But honestly you all already know what I do.  You do it, too.  This essay has rung true for writers because they know it to be true before they read it.

My graduate fiction workshop recently had a conversation about representations of fiction writers in popular culture.  All you ever see is writer’s block, one of them said.  I think he’s right. The most common representation of writers is our inability to do our job.  Even within the short stories we looked at, writer-characters were caught saying things like, I hope I don’t ever have to get a real job.  I wonder: is this how we truly perceive ourselves?

I’m a big fan of the documentary “The Rough South of Larry Brown” because in it you see a writer who treats writing like work.  (I was pretty crushed when I read a biography of Brown and it said the only time he stopped writing was when he started teaching.)  I think sometimes we writers hold onto the romantic notion that writing is such hard work that we can’t actually do it, while simultaneously holding onto the practical notion that writing is not paying work so we should not spend quite so much time at it.  And so we don’t always treat our work like work, and so others don’t either.  I don’t really know what else to say other than, sometimes the best way to explain yourself is to stop talking and start doing.  Or rather to keep doing. So let’s.

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