July 30, 2007

Run, Forrest. Run!: Writing and Freedom

The first time I saw Forrest Gump was while I was during a fellowship at Seaside, Florida. I had just finished a morning of writing and editing and I needed to unwind. I went downstairs to the living room, popped the DVD in the player, and sat back in one of the big armchairs to enjoy a movie that I'd missed in the general release.

When Forrest Gump started I wasn't too sure I was going to like it. But by the time I got to the scene where Jenny says, "Run, Forrest. Run!" and I saw the braces flying off Forrest's legs, I was bawling.

I will never apologize for my tears. I know exactly why I was bawling.

Forrest was free. And so was I.

For the first time in my life I was in a position where all I had to do was write, eat, and sleep. And it felt good. But it wouldn't have been possible without the support of my friends: Meg O'Brien from WLRN, who nominated me for the award, and Dr. Gina Cortes-Suarez, the current president of the InterAmerican Campus of Miami Dade College, who put together the paperwork so that I could leave my teaching post for month so that I could live my life's passion. And, of course, my wife and family, who helped me to go without trying to make me feel guilty.

It was at Seaside that I had my first real experience of "the writing life" and the first time that I felt I had earned m permission to speak as a writer. Permission to speak. What an awkward phrase. And for those of us who have grown up in postcolonial environments believing that the privilege to speak was reserved only for a precious few whose names were so-and-so or they knew so-and-so, permission to speak was not something we took for granted. What rubbish!

I thought those days were long gone.

But there are still those who would silence InI (it's the only phrase that works here), even when we are well past the age of what Peter Tosh would have called the "youth." And yet without asserting that right, we would remain children. Writing and self-publishing has given me the right that I was born with--permission to speak.

And even now there are those who would silence the new voices springing up all over the blogosphere and complaining that these voices are using up valuable bandwidth with terrible, talent-less writing. (He's recanted.) But I don't worry about the young voices. Let them be. Let them write. Let them fill the blogosphere with their words for the world to see because they need the time to grow, to make their mistakes, and to begin on the road to discovering their vocation, which is hard enough as it is without someone else dampening their dreams. As William Sanders has said about writing:

"Talent is such a small part of it. Willingness to work hard to learn the skills. (Including the nuts and bolts like spelling and grammar.) Patience to do the necessary revising and if necessary rewriting to get it right. Persistence in the face of rejection. Judgment in deciding what advice to listen to and whom not to trust. Humility to know when you're exerting suction. Knowledge, all sorts of knowledge, knowledge of what's been written, knowledge of the world and its peoples, knowledge of physical science, knowledge of at least one other language to give you perspective on your own. And most important of all: understanding of human beings and why they act the way they do and the way they interact with each other, which can take a lifetime to master but without it a writer is a failure. Maybe a clever failure, maybe sometimes an entertaining one, but a failure all the same." (Via John Baker's Blog)

They don't need permission to speak any more that I can grant it, but that doesn't mean I should try to stop them. We can't and we shouldn't even try. They were born with the right. So, in the meantime, let them be.

Run Forrest, run!



Stephen A. Bess said...

Ahhh...beautiful! Yes, let him/her who is willing to pick up the pen speak. Bua!! Bua!! (Sesotho for speak)

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Stephen,

Yes! Let them speak!


Unknown said...

Well a lot of bloggers are just attention-deficit bitching about their suburban lives, some are actually worth listening to (myself included). Forrest Gump was touching. Your tears are forgiven.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Leon &
welcome back!

Professor Zero said...

Great post.

And - I also liked the movie. Saw it on a bus in Mexico. Would not have seen it had it not been placed right in front of me like that. Liked it more than I expected to.