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  • Ana Shaw

On Puzzles

ana's bp pic

My​ ​first​ ​year​ ​in​ ​a​ ​creative-writing​ ​intensive​ ​program​ ​came​ ​as​ ​a​ ​shock​ ​in​ ​many,​ ​many ways.​ ​Not​ ​least​ ​was​ ​the​ ​pure​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​we​ ​were​ ​instructed​ ​to​ ​complete,​ ​the​ ​way​ ​each piece​ ​came​ ​with​ ​specific​ ​mentions​ ​of​ ​goals,​ ​elements,​ ​techniques​ ​were​ ​were​ ​supposed​ ​to understand.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​remember,​ ​but​ ​always​ ​sporadically,​ ​always on​ ​my​ ​own​ ​schedule.​ ​I​ ​liked​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​novels,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​and​ ​expand​ ​my​ ​characters, ideas,​ ​settings.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​how​ ​to​ ​write​ ​towards​ ​an​ ​intent,​ ​and​ ​especially​ ​not​ ​how​ ​to​ ​apply craft,​ ​to​ ​revise​ ​my​ ​piece​ ​and​ ​actually​ ​improve​ ​it.​ ​Writing​ ​shifted​ ​from​ ​a​ ​hobby​ ​to​ ​a​ ​confusing obligation,​ ​and,​ ​finally,​ ​a​ ​boring​ ​chore.​ ​Craft​ ​still​ ​seemed​ ​like​ ​a​ ​total​ ​mystery​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t understand​ ​how​ ​characters,​ ​plot,​ ​syntax,​ ​or​ ​theme​ ​worked,​ ​so​ ​I​ hated​ tinkering​ ​around​ ​with​ ​my words.​ ​My​ ​love​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​had​ ​fizzled​ ​away.

And​ ​then​ ​came​ ​Raymond​ ​Carver.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​his​ ​short​ ​story​ Cathedral.​ In​ ​it,​ ​a​ ​rather

obnoxious​ ​narrator​ ​has​ ​an​ ​awakening​ ​with​ ​the​ ​help​ ​of​ ​a​ ​blind​ ​man,​ ​whom​ ​he​ ​had​ ​spent​ ​most​ ​of the​ ​story​ ​despising.​ ​There’s​ ​this​ ​uplifting,​ ​brightened​ ​final​ ​scene​ ​in​ ​which​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​human connection​ ​moves​ ​from​ ​physical​ ​to​ ​nearly​ ​spiritual.​ ​While​ ​the​ ​story​ ​no​ ​doubt​ ​has​ ​many interpretations,​ ​to​ ​my​ ​fifteen​ ​year​ ​old​ ​self,​ ​the​ ​story​ ​got​ ​at​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​to​ ​be human.​ ​It​ ​showed​ ​where​ ​our​ ​lives​ ​gain​ ​meaning.​ ​The​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​Carver’s​ ​story​ ​opened​ ​up​ ​to me.​ ​The​ ​detail​ ​choice.​ ​The​ ​characters.​ ​The​ ​dialogue.​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​comprehend​ ​stylistic​ ​and​ ​artistic choices:​ ​why​ ​an​ ​author​ ​makes​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​can​ ​be​ ​executed.​ ​My​ ​role​ ​as​ ​a​ ​writer​ ​moved from​ ​abstract​ ​and​ ​diluted,​ ​to​ ​understandable,​ ​with​ ​tangible​ ​elements​ ​of​ ​craft.​ ​Revision​ ​began​ ​to make​ ​sense,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​connect​ ​the​ ​choices​ ​in​ ​my​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​how​ ​they​ ​built​ ​up​ ​a​ ​reader’s understanding,​ ​how​ ​writing​ ​could​ ​really​ ​impact​ ​a​ ​reader​ ​and​ ​illuminate​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​their​ ​life.

In​ ​response,​ ​I​ ​set​ ​about​ ​crafting​ ​this​ ​narrator.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​a​ ​story

portfolio​ ​in​ ​my​ ​sophomore​ ​year,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​first​ ​where​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​and​ ​outlined​ ​just​ ​what​ ​I​ ​might be​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​show​ ​the​ ​reader.​ ​My​ ​story​ ​had​ ​become​ ​a​ ​function​ ​of​ ​creating​ ​connection​ ​and​ ​intent, a​ ​fascinating​ ​puzzle.​ ​The​ ​narrator​ ​was​ ​a​ ​young​ ​child,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​close​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​every word​ ​she​ ​used.​ ​To​ ​convince​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​that​ ​they​ ​were,​ ​honestly,​ ​reading​ ​from​ ​a​ ​child’s​ ​point​ ​of view,​ ​everything​ ​she​ ​said​ ​or​ ​thought​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​believable.​ ​Her​ ​interactions​ ​with​ ​other​ ​children had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​realistic​ ​for​ ​children​ ​that​ ​age.​ ​Still,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​show​ ​her​ ​story​ ​in​ ​such​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​meaning could​ ​be​ ​gained.​ ​To​ ​accomplish​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​not​ ​only​ ​worked​ ​hard​ ​on​ ​voice,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​also​ ​used​ ​symbolism for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time,​ ​adding​ ​layers​ ​to​ ​objects​ ​or​ ​gestures​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​her​ ​to​ ​communicate​ ​the experience​ ​she​ ​was​ ​having​ ​in​ ​a​ ​richer​ ​way.

I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​love​ ​writing​ ​again​ ​when​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​the​ ​blocks​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​weren’t​ ​just piece​ ​of​ ​wood,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​could​ ​be​ ​arranged​ ​in​ ​specific​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​build​ ​other​ ​structures,​ ​and​ ​that those​ ​structures​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​careful​ ​placement​ ​of​ ​every​ ​piece.​ ​In​ ​my​ ​other​ ​classes,​ ​I​ ​have always​ ​loved​ ​math.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​way,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​translate​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​more​ ​mathematical​ ​context.​ ​It​ ​doesn’t sound​ ​particularly​ ​exciting,​ ​or​ ​artsy,​ ​but​ ​writing​ ​only​ ​works​ ​for​ ​me​ ​if​ ​I​ ​see​ ​the​ ​work​ ​as​ ​a​ ​puzzle, a​ ​structure,​ ​a​ ​complex​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​separate​ ​elements.​ ​Then,​ ​I​ ​can​ ​set​ ​about​ ​solving​ ​the puzzle.​ ​Finding​ ​the​ ​best​ ​combinations.​ ​To​ ​love​ ​art,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​take​ ​it​ ​apart,​ ​and​ ​learn​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the parts​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hand,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​get​ ​distracted​ ​by​ ​the​ ​big​ ​picture.

-Ana Shaw, Senior Editor-in-Chief


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