What’s in a Word but Time and Coffee?

Some jerk said that you have to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you are truly a master at it. Thankfully that means I am a master of sitting, sleeping, being awake, listening to ABBA, and potentially even thinking. The last is to be debated. Yet, there is a particular mastery that I crave too deeply. The metrics are not entirely applicable, but still the hours linger when I start to think about my progress towards the dream goal:

To be a so-called master of slamming words into a word document with some assembly that is not purely random crap strung together with cheap punctuation and fruity adjectives.

This semester is adding some hours.

As mentioned before perhaps, I am enrolled in six literature-oriented courses right now. Tangents in the form of elongated appositives notwithstanding, I truly believe that this creative crucible has been a shaping era of my life that demands continuity.

Before the spring term, I applied to graduate programs, focused in poetry, not expecting a word in response other than the dreaded rejection. I have no fear of professional rejection; it is part of the process of growing. People need criticism to see what they do well and don’t do well per the infinite sets of eyes out there. I was surprised, however, when poetry itself rejected me in a sense.

That may be too harsh a word. Poetry and I are still on talking terms. We spill ink to each other, scrawl love notes in whatever journal is nearby. Things are good but things are different. Things are different because two of the courses I am currently in are oriented towards this lovely genre called creative nonfiction.

For the uninitiated, I will try to summarize. Creative nonfiction is a newish genre that has started transforming traditional forms. The memoir is not the only thing out there now. No longer is the personal essayist confined to journaling, lengthy autobiographies, and the like. There are some new avenues now. Poetry even pops in with some of that, a lot of that if you are fun, but I have an honest bias. Blending the two was always a goal, but in my time playing at stories of my own past, there is a certain self-indulgence that is utterly cleansing.

My own life is a twisted sort of thing. It’s a tree struck by lightning that could grow, might not. People marvel at the scarified damage and say, “Wow, that’s neat” or “I don’t believe you for a second. You probably just lit yourself on fire.” Creative nonfiction is nice because it is a bit of both: The true and the not-as-true. Lying is bad. I’ve lied before. It’s bad for you. Lies are not good. Don’t lie and to those that I’ve lied to: Sorry. There are curtains of truth I am opening up now, and that’s the beauty of creative nonfiction.

It’s the perfect medium to hide behind façade in, yet I have not been doing that. Instead there have been strenuous moments before the open word document where I see a sentence that is not true and I know it is not true so I recognize something must be done. As alluded, there is some tragedy in my life. Some humor, too, if my friends are to be believed. Bouncing between the two has been an exercise in self-acceptance and curtain shredding that is probably saving my mind, to be frank. It has been a rough year and this exploration into a genre I had only read of has been transformative.

As said before, I have spent ten thousand hours living. A master of living, by the metric, translates to endless stories meant for the page. From me, from you, from anyone brave enough to delve into things. As the year moves forward, I know the hour counter is going to surge, but that really is not the point. The metric is crap, a master is only a master when someone else says it and the so-called master never ponders such a thing. They just keep doing. The hours are not supposed to matter.

So, as the graduation timer draws closer to null, I can only say this about the mastery of literature:

I hope it never happens and that I continue jotting through genres such as this one, feeling out the word landscape. There are many words that fit in different ways. I am seeking the methods and the manner, the rules and the principles.

In this, I am a delighted novice.

 Austin Kirkham is a Senior creative writing major from Meridian, Idaho