And yet that is the writer’s work — to notice and question the act of noticing, to clarify again and again, to sift one’s perceptions. I’m always struck by how well fitted these young women are to be writers, if only there weren’t also something within them saying, Who cares what you notice? Who authorized you? Don’t you owe someone an apology?
Every young writer, male or female, Minnesotan or otherwise, faces questions like these at first. It’s a delicate thing, coming to the moment when you realize that your perceptions do count and that your writing can encompass them. You begin to understand how quiet, how subtle the writer’s authority really is, how little it has to do with “authority” as we usually use the word.
Young men have a way of coasting right past that point of realization without even noticing it, which is one of the reasons the world is full of male writers. But for young women, it often means a real transposition of self, a new knowledge of who they are and, in some cases, a forbidding understanding of whom they’ve been taught to be.
Perhaps the world will punish them for this confidence. Perhaps their self-possession will chase away everyone who can’t accept it for what it is, which may not be a terrible thing. But whenever I see this transformation — a young woman suddenly understanding the power of her perceptions, ready to look at the world unapologetically — I realize how much has been lost because of the culture of polite, self-negating silence in which they were raised.
Monday, October 15, 2007
This article in the New York Times, "Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota" by Verlyn Klinkenborg really spoke to me--as a writer, a teacher, a mother of a teenage daughter, and a woman who still struggles on occasion with speaking her own truth: