Monday, August 24, 2015

Why I Write

Today was the first day of classes at Cal State University, Fullerton and Fullerton College, the two schools where I teach English.  On the first day, I like to have my students do a bit of writing, to see where they're coming from.  I asked them to write in response to this simple prompt: How do you truly feel about writing?  As my students wrote, I wrote as well, and here's what I came up with:

Amidst our increasingly image-saturated culture, it seems appropriate to ask: Of what value is writing?  I'm not talking about memes, tweets, instagram captions, facebook status updates, or text messages.  I'm talking about sustained, well-developed writing--articles, essays, and books.  I'm talking about writing that takes time, patience, and sustained thought.  Of what value is this type of writing to the instant-gratification, internet generation?  As your instructor, I feel a burden of responsibility to show you why I think sustained writing matters, even outside the narrow confines of this classroom.  And the only way I can think to do that is to say a few words about the writing I actually do on a regular basis, and why I do it.

Much of the writing I do ends up on my personal blog (www.jesselatour.blogspot.com).  I do very little writing for outside publications, mainly because I haven't tried much to get into that game, and I like having the freedom to write whatever I want.  I would say that, on average, I do three blog posts a week--sometimes more, sometimes less.  On my blog, I write about things I've done, trips I've taken, films I've seen, books I've read.  Throughout my 20s, I did a lot of writing, but it was mostly hidden away in journals.  When I discovered blogging, around 2010, I decided that it might be valuable to actually share my writing with other people.  Aside from personal self-expression, I write for my blog because I like to share my ideas with others.  It's pretty much as simple as that.  It's like if you find a really good taco place.  You want to tell others about those tacos.

One of my favorite things to do, on my blog, is to read a difficult and complicated book (recent examples include the Bible, the Qur'an, Moby Dick, and The Origin of Species), and then to write a book report in my own words.  I aim for clarity, a bit of humor, honesty, and my own unique tone of voice.  I like doing these book reports because they help me solidify what I'm learning, they encourage me to read challenging (and thus rewarding) books, and they (hopefully) educate my readers about topics I think are important.  For example, I recently got into a debate about evolution.  Realizing I'd never read Darwin's The Origin of Species, I decided to go ahead and read it and write a book report.  It took me three weeks, but I finished, and now I understand evolution better.  I'm now better informed when I get into future debates on this important topic, and any topic I choose to read and write about. 

In addition to the blog, I'm also into self-publishing.  I make zines, which are limited-run, hand-made publications.  Zines are a great way to share my writing.  I own a little book/zine store called BOOKMACHINE, and I've started participating in zine fests (like the LA Zine Fest, the Long Beach Zine Fest, and the OC Zine Fest).  Like the blog, zines are a totally do-it-yourself (DIY) thing, which I love.  Some of the zines I've made include: an illustrated memoir of my 20s, a collection of poetry, a collection of essays on science fiction author Philip K. Dick, and many more.  The emerging zine culture is, to me, a kind of backlash against the demise of print media in the internet age.  It's like the re-emergence of vinyl records after mp3s became omnipresent.  There's something magical about a tangible book, magazine, or zine.

At the Long Beach Zine Fest.

Writing is also something that connects me to my community.  For the past several years, I have become deeply involved in the art scene of downtown Fullerton.  I co-own a gallery, and helped start the monthly Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.  And so, I have written a lot (both for my blog and a few print publications) about the cultural life of Downtown Fullerton.  My purpose with this is to actually connect people more with the place they live, and the people who make it what it is.  I regularly read both the OC Weekly and the Fullerton Observer to stay touch with what's happening locally.  I have also spent the past few years researching and writing a history of Fullerton, which I plan to self-publish through BOOKMACHINE.  Learning and writing about the history of the community in which I live has given me a greater understanding of its culture, politics, and social problems.  As with the blog and the zines, my local writings (I hope) have a larger purpose, which is connecting people with their actual, living community--something increasingly important in the often alienating world of personal computer technology.

Writing is important to me because it is empowering.  Amidst all the idiocy of modern media, you can be your own unique, educated voice.  That's what I want to express through my writing--a unique, educated voice.  And that's what I want my students to become.  Becoming a good writer is not just something you do in college for a grade.  That seems almost pointless, a closed system.  For me, writing, and the sharing of writing, is all about openness.  Writing, for me, is a form of sharing.  I'm all about increasing not just my own knowledge, but the knowledge of my community (students, friends, readers).  I think reading and writing are still hugely important--they encourage critical thinking, a hunger for knowledge, and creativity.  Most of the best stuff I learn still comes from books.  With a world as complex and full of problems as ours, being an educated thinker and writer is more than a luxury--it's a necessity if you want to have a stake in things.  This world needs informed, intelligent, eloquent, and creative people, and this (at least in my experience) means cultivating a love for reading and writing. 

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