Being Full of It or, How I Feel About Charles Baxter

Here’s the thing: I kind of love Charles Baxter. I mean, how could I not? The dude’s a serious badass. Sure, he doesn’t pistol-whip his foes or go on high-speed car chases (as far as I know), but he writes beautiful, heart-breaking stories about the Midwest that have many a Midwesterner’s approval. This is no small feat. On that note, if you’re not familiar with his work, do your soul a favor and go get a copy of Feast of Love from your local library. They’ll have it; it won a National Book Award after all.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that when I had to pick a piece to respond to for the Minor in Writing blog, I went straight for Sir Baxter’s “Full of It,” expecting to find something that reads both cool and authentic, and leaves me with a head full of new and interesting thoughts.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed, but there were a few times where I found his portrayal of the “suffering artist,” wherein he likens creative work to an “affliction” borne by an artist, a little cliché. I’ve met enough artists to know that the drive they feel to make art is, in some ways, burdensome, and leads to as much trouble as it does good, but I think that it’s worth noting that they make a choice when they decide to act on their artistic impulses, and isn’t the ability to even have such choices a privilege in itself? I guess I just get tired of talented people complaining that being talented is both as much a blessing as it is a curse. I’d like to tell all of these talented people that it’s just a blessing, and that part you’re calling a “curse” is just what the rest of us call life. Sometimes it’s kind of hard.

But besides that one complaint, I’m pretty happy I read this piece. I, like so many other young 20-somethings preparing to leave college and enter the “real world,” am nothing if not a little lost, and to see a writer whom I admire say that “wisdom is simply somebody’s personal prejudice masquerading as truth,” and encourage me to “make my own mistakes the way that I made mine,” is pretty reassuring.  What’s more, I like that Baxter is all about encouraging people to figure their own stuff out, and makes a point to emphasize the value in working through your mistakes because I am just all about making mistakes lately. I also like that he points out that all writers have to be “good noticers,” because I’ve always felt that way about myself. For example, I can tell you that I remember the time I fought back tears while my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. V., yelled at me for talking in class, I remember feeling the corners of my mouth pull themselves sideways while my throat tightened up, and that I saw the moment Mrs. V. started to re-think her choice to shame me in front of everyone in the way her brows pulled apart.

Point is, to hear a writer whom look up to say, in his own words, “Hey Brooke, you’re on the right track to be a pretty decent writer!” is pretty comforting. What’s less comforting, of course, is him following with, “You know those flaws you have? They’re intimately connected to your talent as a writer.” I think I always knew as much, that my love of gossip, tendency to daydream, and unrelenting insecurities were all what drove me to write with the voice I have, and what created that “relatable” quality in my work. Of course, I am not an aspiring fiction writer; at least, not in the same way I think Charles Baxter was at my age. When I think about my future career in writing, I usually think about pitching a T.V. show to HBO, publishing collections of personal essays about my own misadventures, and composing screen plays based on my favorite books. For whatever reason, I’d like to think that this path, the Brooke Gabriel path, will be different from the Charles Baxter path. That in choosing a writing career that involves different media than the short story or novel, I can simply take the good bits that come with this “affliction” or “condition” Baxter and I both suffer from and avoid all the bad parts that come with it.

But of course, I, like Baxter, am full of it.

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