It is the end of the first week of December and I am where I have been on this date for the last ten years, Mississippi. This the week I present seminars at sites across this southern state. We started this year in Hattiesburg, home of Southern Mississippi State and we are finishing the tour in Oxford Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. In past years we included Starkville Mississippi, home of Mississippi State. It has been enjoyable being able to view all of these universities while also getting to experience the culture in so many different parts of this state.
Last night, knowing I had today free from my teaching schedule, I and my wife decided to indulge in some adult beverages and local cuisine at a nearby establishment. The bar was pretty much empty save for two locals, the bartender owner and our waitress. Called out immediately as foreigners, apparently by the insufficient number of extra vowels we put in our words, we confessed to being Damn Yankees. We were then educated on the fact that we were just Yankees as Damn Yankee is a term reserved for those northerners who come down and then never leave. I had been schooled. The conversation turned to what we intended to do with our day off and we were then given a lengthy itinerary of sites in Oxford no visitor should miss. I will note here that the citizens of the Great State of Mississippi are among the most gracious I have dealt with. I never tire of the “thank you ma’am” and “yes sir” and definitely not the “can I get you anything else honey”. That last one never grows old with me. Included in their list of must sees was a surprise, at least to me. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that Oxford Mississippi was the birthplace of William Faulkner and that his home is still here and maintained for the tourists. If you are shaking your head wondering how a wanna be writer would not know this, I write but I don’t always read, at least not good William’s obituary.
This morning we trekked on downtown and after some well received directions, made our way through the old neighborhood and found the house. Built in 1848 and occupied by Faulkner from 1930 until his death in 1962, it was a little rough around the edges but sat on a stately manor covered with magnolia trees. Under one particular grove of magnolias lay the still visible outline of a two hundred year old labyrinth. The effect of all of this was to have a sense of actually being back there. As we toured the house, I was peering out the rear window of one of the bedrooms when I spotted a gentleman walking the back grounds. For a brief moment, in the tree filtered light, I was sure I was seeing Faulkner himself. Arriving downstairs, I bumped into the gentleman who admitted dressing the part for his tour, hoping to regenerate the spirit of Faulkner who would then assist him in his writing endeavor.
When I had heard of the opportunity to view Faulkner’s home I had been unsure of why I felt compelled to actually follow through on the trek. Now, walking through the labyrinth and the magnificent magnolia groves, approaching the house as Faulkner would have and then encountering the spirited writer, I felt something stir. Once back inside the house, I began to read the various information attached to the museum displays. One in particular resonated with me. Faulkner had been commenting on the act of writing. I will paraphrase here since they don’t allow pictures and they definitely frown on taking the museum pieces with you. Faulkner basically said that writing a book was his fate, doom in that once you write you have to keep writing. Eventually you can be writing just to write another book. He described writing a piece only to read and reread and then to replace the words and then read and adjust again. And when it was finally done, to wait on the story before letting someone read it for their opinion.
I know this feeling and at times it is what creates writer’s block. I know I need to write something that is rattling around in my head even when I just don’t feel ready to write it. Once I write it, I agonize over whether it is good enough. The problem, it never is, and you simply hope that you can get it right the next time. It was redeeming and at the same time inspiring for me to read of Faulkner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, agonizing over his work and wondering if he had gotten it right. Worrying that it could have been better.
I too will agonize over this piece. Did I manage to tie the story line together? Will I have made my point? Will it even be worth your reading? All I know is that somewhere in that walk through his house, Faulkner nudged me to write. And in his way he gave me confidence to keep writing.
I think I need to thank two random Mississippians who gave me the time and invited me to take a memorable walk with Mr Faulkner.