May 17th 2011
My bananas are sitting on the seat of a bus somewhere in Bamberg Germany, alone. I realized on my leisurely stroll back to the student dorms that I left the bag of bananas on the bus. How awkward that would be to find a bag of bananas riding unaccompanied in the bus seat next to you, bananas of all things.
I am in a creative writing class on Monday nights, taught by an author from Bamberg. The class is slowly becoming my favorite class. The class structures creativity, and mine prior to this course, has always been abstract. Creative writing class is sort of a new concept in Germany. As a whole, wissenschaftliche Arbeite, scholarly- analytically and scientifically grounded writing are the standard for writing there. Before long after my first semester there, I too had citations running off the ends of the pages. How do I mix my creative, playful writing style into these analytical works?
Everything in Germany has its place. I find it hard to put into words how everything has to have a reason and order. In comparison, it does seem like the Americans just carelessly throw words around in both our spoken language, as well as written. Although our literary analysis methods do consist of rigid form and guidelines for certain things, backed with order, support, argument etc., we seem to allow more room for playing with words. Perhaps because English is a newer and, “ever evolving” language, it allows for more play.
I admire the German need for a reason and place for everything that exists, everything that ‘is’. It seems that they strive so hard to be correct the time (and I must say, they always are very good at what they do), they are never taught to let go and be “creative”.
A girl from the creative writing class asked yesterday;
“How one goes about writing about something that they have never experienced personally?”
She wanted the guidelines for creativity. She didn’t know how to, or had never been allowed to let herself go; to feel an emotion and describe it. How does one write that? I wanted to pipe in, “Honey, that’s what being creative is called.” A talent that the United States seems to hone in on and coddle from a young age. We are taught to think out of the box and do it our way. How do you describe an apple if you don’t know what it looks or tastes like? Her example, was how do you describe being deaf if you have never been deaf before; the beauty of imagination.
One of my first creative writing assignments ever, (back in the US) was to pick a surreal picture, and write a poem about it. The assignment was left open. This was beginner, Creative Writing 101. I picked Dali’s painting Explosion:
I noticed that the students are so afraid to be wrong when they speak, they often don’t speak at all! I’ve sat through many of my ‘Hauptseminars’ in a painful silence after the professor asks a question, a very open ended question and is followed by pure awkward, wide-eyed silence. There is no middle ground in these classes it seems, and if there happens to be an awkward middle space that cannot be classified, they classify it, name it, analyze, and place it in its literary function and place. It cannot simply ‘be’.
To that end, back to my German Creative Writing class we had an assignment where we simply described an every day object/occurrence, in a new light. A vague description, and after a few students read their various examples aloud, one girl wrote a poetic description of raw emotion about some subject. When called upon to read what she wrote she responded, “I don’t think I did the assignment right … “ As if an open ended creative writing class assignment could be done wrong.
The professor smiled and was supportive and encouraged her that her piece could not possibly be wrong. I found him fascinating.
My brain functions on the completely opposite end of this spectacle. I am overflowing with creativity, and need to learn how to put it in some order. The realization reminded me of a dance class I took in Fort Collins during college.
“You have a whole lot of oomph, we just have to put it all in the right direction,” the older teacher told me.
After sending off my first “literary analysis” on a book at the university in Germany, I was pounded down with rules and ‘don’ts’ while writing. Their guidelines were completely different. I don’t know how to express myself un-creatively. I retreated to simple sentences; simple lines, zero flavor.
It’s difficult for the creative writer to write so simply. It pains me really to not play with a language, or play with words in such a way. I admit, my way of speaking in English is silly and could often use some guileless, some structure. But that’s part of the beauty of it, poetry allows me to be nonsensical sometimes.
I get along quite well with poetry (to explain my point, the line, “to get along with poetry”, wouldn’t make sense in German. One cannot have a relationship with poetry because poetry doesn’t really exist in that sense; it is there to be read. I used the same sort of expression in German yesterday about bicycles, and how “we just don’t get along.” A bicycle has no emotions or feelings, or expressions and therefore it cannot be argued with, or offer a relationship that could be disagreeable.
I was also discussing last night how getting to know people in other languages is an enlightening experience. My exchange student from high school and I are a perfect example. Our entire relationship for a year was in English. I at that time couldn’t speak a word of German and therefore she had to talk to me in my language. Then, five years later we sort of got to get to know each other in a new language, now we nearly only talk in German, and I got to see how she is in her own native language. But because we can both fully fluently communicate and understand each other in both of our native languages, we got to know each other on an entirely new level. She of course can express herself in German in ways she never really could in English. And I can’t talk the way I normally talk in German. Due to strict rules of the language, I find I run into many barriers while trying to be funny or tell jokes. For a language that is so literal, it just doesn’t work. I’ve learned though, that many Germans admire the spontaneity and randomness of the American culture, even if they don’t understand fully why I cannot understand their structures rules, guidelines … or bureaucracy.
I was afraid at the beginning of this trip that I would lose my sense of humor after a year of not being able to express myself. But, I don’t think I have, it may be dumbed down a few notches, though. Then I think about it, and I actually speak in a way that is a bit confusing to foreigners. I warn them too, that my English is weird. My structure, my words, the way I use them. I’ve been told now in English and in German that I talk like Yoda sometimes when I write.
Now you try and explain how to learn to write creatively.