Earlier this month, Beijing-born storyteller and essayist Yiyun Li came to Saint Mary’s for a craft talk and reading. One of the things she said is that we write to be in dialogue with writers whom we admire. Li’s words reminded me of something similar I heard in high school from a screenwriter, who said writers write because they love actors. I couldn’t agree more.
Before our summer hiatus, I wrote about feeling like I was finally a part of the Asian American movement in San Francisco after meeting Flo and Nellie Wong at an art exhibition last spring. After such a grandiose rush of historical connection, my thoughts have turned inward once again, mainly to ideas about persona and “the dialogical self.”
One of the first books of poetry recommended to me was Open House by Beth Ann Fennelly. In her long poem, “From L’hotel Terminus Notebooks,” her speaker has an internal argument with a man who represents the critic’s voice. The voice is antagonistic and imaginary, yet also a part of herself. Psychologist Hubert Hermans considers this, the relationship between all the disparate voices in our minds, to be “the dialogical self.” The self in dialogue.
Becoming Realer: Identity, Craft and the MFA is a column that explores issues of poetry, theory and writing craft in relation to the personal experiences of Saint Mary’s College of California Creative Writing MFA candidate and LR staff writer, Kelsay Myers.
After reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoirFun Home: A Family Tragicomic last semester in Contemporary Nonfiction, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of artifice in my life. Bechdel’s father spent years creating a fiction of himself as the straight, happy family man and small town English teacher, and he arranged his Gothic revivalist home into a solid, real world representation of his artifice. It’s not merely artifice in the sense of having a duplicitous nature, but also the construction and presentation of a certain image, or identity, to the world.
It’s that kind of self-construction that I relate to not only in my own identity formation, but in my writing as well. We learn early on in our writing careers that whatever “self”we put on the page is not our actual, real world self. It is a fabrication, written with specific intentions for an audience. It is, in a word, performed. But in all honesty, when I look at my actual self, I still see the artifice. In any given situation, I find myself carefully constructing my self to look or act a certain way. It’s not just vanity that causes me to never leave the house without make-up, or to sleep in pajamas that are basically clothes so I could more quickly run out in the middle of the night if I happened to get an emergency phone call saying that someone is in the hospital. Although I am vain, it goes deeper than that. It’s about actualizing the idea of myself that I have in my head (heavily influenced by pop-culture and television) every hour of every day in order to make it true.