Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Value of the Humanities for the Writer's Well Being

Consider the basic principle of how you feel about doing something you want to do opposed to something you have to do. Pick your poison and pick your pleasure. Like, the bathroom vs. reading a book? Close, but not extreme enough. Let's say the "have to" thing - -cleaning the bathroom - -is more than just an unpleasant job. Padding the plot like only a writer can do, make it worse with some "what ifs?"

What if it has to be done every day for five weeks? And, to a degree that leads you to believe you must be paying a cosmic debt for some bad karma from another lifetime, what if each day the bathroom starts out being in worse shape then it was the day before. What if it doesn't get easier and each day it takes longer to finish. Yes, some dark magic seems to be in the works, which leads you to believe...

*cue spooky music*

... you've been cursed. (It's an absurd curse, but sounds dismal enough to me. LOL)

However, in that same day of eternal bathroom cleaning, you "get" to do something you want: read a book or watch a movie, or attend a play or listen to music or view art. It's something you normally want to do. But now? NOW? *panic!* There is that huge task you've been cursed with to get done. And you ask yourself, how can I be expected to do both? In fact, you have a sneaking suspicion this requirement for pleasure is part of the curse. Actually, you're right. There it is - - in the small print of The Curse Contract: the "get to" part is really a "have to." Suddenly, how much of a treat is the thing you want to do?

In the real world, how is the tug and pull of "have to" and "get to" managed? If I could choose I'd get out of the bathroom job pronto. LOL But noooo, real life isn't fair, and reality often means doing the "have to" and putting off the "get to." Most of the time, we think we're doing ourselves a favor by letting go of the pleasure when it seems to cause more stress by being overburdened.

But what if you'd been cursed and must fulfill both? What if they have equal weight?

I've been busy with a couple of very time intensive classes in summer school and I've discovered something interesting; sometimes doubling up is actually less stressful to some degree. My classes: Algebra and Humanites. See the contrast? Can you guess which I compare to extended bathroom cleaning? (If you love Algebra, this doesn't apply. And I hate you. LOL) At first, I railed against fate for the stress of completing the amount of work in both diverse subjects. In fact, I almost concluded that one or the other had to go. But which one? My Algebra instructor opened the class with the prediction we would "live and breath" Algebra. Funny thing is, the Humanities instructor said almost the same thing (only the Humanities, not Algebra. LOL) And how can I "live and breath" both? (And be a mom and all those other things that seem to be beside the point!)

It turns out though - - much like reading is escapism - - the broad Humanities class has been a welcome balancing factor. Under that comfort zone of self-expression where opinion counts over "right way" and "wrong way," expectations, there are lessons for how to deal with the uncertainty of uncomfortable life choices, which often feel very little like choices at all.

Is this much different than being in a stressful job but always putting off enjoyment until a too far off vacation? Or is this why the things we "get" to do, even though we normally want to, become chores? I think the Humanities (disciplines near and dear to a writer) get undervalued. But do the lessons wait for when we have time? Or is the first lesson to give the Humanities equal weight?
The title and subtitle of my textbook, The Art of Being Human: The Humanities as a Technique for Living, is very appropriate. And in addition to this great value, as a writer, I find nearly every topic between the covers of this book of interest and relevant to what and how we try to put in our stories. Topics such as archetypes in mythology (including the hero, of course), all the big topics of love, happiness, friendship, death and the conflicts in moral decisions. The value of the Humanities is, the process of giving us answers to the questions we hadn't yet thought to ask by providing proof of how humans have been asking and answering the same universal questions. Then we ask again because someone else is bound to be asking too. Maybe an answer is within us as well.

I'll try to get to a blog here and there using this text as a base. In the meantime, the link to the (overpriced) book is below if you are curious.


  1. Great post! And my mind is still boggling at the thought of the neverending/ever-increasing bathroom chore. LOL I'm glad you have the counterbalance of the Humanities course (I'm not an Algebra girl either!) -- because you're right about needing the freedom of some self-expression to counteract the rigidity of right way/wrong way kind of thinking. Lots to think about here!

  2. Thanks, Donna. :) Yes, there is a lot to think about, which is the great thing about taking the the Humanities as a class in itself. It makes me feel pretty lucky, actually.

    Recently I tried to explain the difference to my sister between studying the Humanities as a major and taking classes within the Humanities as we all have to do in a liberal arts college. I did a dismal job and didn't convince her, but I think this blog sorted it out for me with the "have to" and "get to" question and the feeling you get from giving them both the same weight. I still probably wouldn't convince her though. LOL


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