Elsewhere and Otherwise

One of the great difficulties I have in teaching is in trying to help my students understand the importance of narrative and personal reflection in their work.  I routinely see people doing amazing things, but being unable or unaware of the significance of what is happening.  Because it is happening to them at all they assume it to be ordinary.

I remember very clearly a moment in my 18th century literature seminar in grad school.  One of my fellow students was giving a paper on the importance of gardens in a text, speaking about an exotic plant identified by the author.  Our professor--a tweed jacketed, umbrella toting Englishman--interrupted: "What makes you think it 'exotic'?  These grow all over England!  The author is writing about a common, not exotic plant!"

When you write, write about what is common, and more, what is common to you.  Don't imagine that your own story is uninteresting for simply being your own.  Because the common, and in particular, your common experience is what produces the exotic for another, take the time necessary to examine your own surroundings, movements, interactions, relationships, and experiences.  To do so is to become aware of, and so accept your own individuality.

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