Yesterday in Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, we took time to celebrate the National Day on Writing (coming this Sunday, 10/20, which is Ball State University’s fall break, so we’re celebrating early). We took forty minutes to freewrite after coming up with writing prompts for each other. I leaped from the question, why are writing classes important?

I thought I’d share my freewrite here, and I hope that you’ll take some time to write and share this week. Check out the National Council of Teachers of English’s web site for more information about how people are celebrating the National Day on Writing.

Screen Shot of NCTE's Day on Writing

 On Sunday, you can also follow writers on Twitter (#write2connect, #dayonwriting, #bsuwrites).


What’s Age Got to Do with It?

by Liz Whiteacre

Sometimes, I forget I’m aging. I’ve spent the last nineteen years on college campuses, surrounded by perpetual youth. That’s what’s done it: a hundred young faces every term, then a new batch, then another. Each class is distinct. I get to know these people very well through their writing for a few months, but then they move on, grow, age (parts I don’t get to witness), and they eventually send me their siblings, then their children. The campus’ kinetic energy of discovery buoys me. I learn something new from composition and creative writing pieces every day. There’s nothing stagnant, nothing too repetitive. Though some days my mind feels dull, I can usually write that off to a cold, lack of sleep, worry about fitting all my tasks into a day.

When I wash my face and look hard in the mirror, I can see new lines, scars, freckles, maybe a white eyebrow hair (I’m blonde, so I can choose ignore it…sun bleached it is, if I’m in the mood). My hands look like my mother’s did when I was a child. I respect the ache in my lower back when I squat by a desk to offer guidance to a writer. But my mind, it’s easily distracted, so I might not pay attention to how old I am until I get an invitation to a reunion or notice my daughter’s cheek now touches my belly when she hugs me. I stopped paying attention at thirty, I think, when my daughter was born. Distracted by both the learning of parenthood and professorship, it’s easy to ignore the aging bit. My collective years’ experience isn’t tracked by birthdays anymore like it was when I was a kid; instead landmarks or events mark it. Oh, that was before or after the accident, or about the time when my daughter lost her first tooth, or the time the ball bearing went in the car’s back wheel, or that trip to Belize. It’s never, oh, when I was thirty-three such and such happened. The calendar’s good for keeping me early to appointments, not for marking things significant to me.

I celebrate my birthday now, I think, because my daughter so loves balloons and icing (the pageantry of it) and my husband loves that I’m (still) here. I’ve begun to wonder when “you’re as old as you feel” was first said and why, as folks barrel towards ninety, it echoes—a mantra to keep us focused on what’s in front of us, not how close we’ve crept towards death? And, when we get to mid-life, does it really matter what our number of years is? Does age determine our ability to spot significant things to write about? I’ve read lots of amazingly wise stories written by young people. I’m stumped. So, I stop paying attention. I’ve got things to do.

I treasure my profession. I get to work with writers on and off campus of all ages who are trying to figure out the best way to communicate something significant in life they’ve witnessed and understood. Sure, minutes tick and our time on task is limited to our work periods, but during these deliberate, focused moments where we talk about craft and product and dissemination, time seems to be shaped less linearly. It’s a precious thing to point to something that’s happened in our lives and say, I think that’s significant, and I think this is why. It’s even more precious to be able to take that moment and shape it and share it with others in such a way that they understand the significance too. I have no doubt I’ll soon be curious about recording the stories of that old lady in the mirror, but I’m pretty sure, my mind will still be oblivious to how old that face appears when it walks away from the mirror. It will be focused on the next story, the right here and now, ignoring the clock, trying to capture something important to share with you.