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2014 Spring Issue 1 (April 11, 2014)

Writing

April 12, 2014

Since his freshman year, Michael Goodgame had been a columnist for the Carletonian, contributing to the campus discourse on issues ranging from media and politics to philosophy and science.

Michael was a curious, clear-thinking, self-reflective guy – you always saw him with the same serious, earnest expression. Underneath this was a big heart. One of the areas he was most passionate about was his friends and teammates. About joining the frisbee squad, he wrote last fall: “This is far and away the most meaningful and rewarding program I have ever been a part of, and being a returner this year means that my sense of determination, the sense that I need to continue doing more and more in order to prove myself and contribute to this team, is only increasing.  I love the CUT.”

This summer, Michael had an internship lined up this summer to write for the Rivard Report, an independent magazine in San Antonio. He had expressed interest in pursuing a career as a journalist. At the end of his sophomore year, he wrote: “At this stage, I can foresee myself doing something involving writing—I enjoy it and I’m certainly better at it than I am at math or physics.”

However, for him writing was a subordinate endeavor. “Another goal of mine, though—and a much more important one—is to orchestrate positive change. This is vague, but it’s what I want to do. I feel as though too many people get caught up in their own lives to bother with doing anything meaningful in a worldly sense, and I don’t want that happening to me. So, my question is this: is writing enough of a catalyst for the kinds of social, political, environmental, and technological revolutions that are required all over the world?  What impact does good writing really have?”

We still struggle to frame the event that took the life of Michael and his bright teammates. But in striving to the same grace, civility, curiosity and commitment to that vague-yet-noble goal that they showed daily, we may hope at least to be enriched by and do honor to their memory.

Telling Stories by Samantha Sharpe '14

“The problem is not with the writing.  The writing is good and the ideas are solid—in fact, they are probably both improving as we learn more about the world around us. The problem involves getting people to listen.
How?” 

-Michael Goodgame, “Is Writing Enough” 

This is an important question. There are still far more questions than answers in more or less every possible arena of study, but there are also answers, far more answers than many of us realize. So, how do we turn this knowledge into something that can help us?

Maybe, we can try telling a story.

We all tell stories, whether we realize it or not. There are the stories that we tell, over and over, because they represent something we value about ourselves, or an experience that was important to us. Sometimes, we even do things just for the sake of the stories that we will be able to tell about them later. There are stories that we tell as cultures, to explain the why the world is the way it is, why we should support our government, why we value certain virtue, why life will never, ever, be fair.

Religion and science, in their own ways, are also made up of stories. This is not to say that neither is true, but that they each offer an explanation, a beginning, middle and end. Different religions tell different stories, but ultimately they try to make us understand our place and our connection to others, to the earth, and to a higher power, one or many. Some of us find comfort in stories of an afterlife, whether or not we believe in it, because it feels better to have a story than nothing at all. We tell these stories again and again, pass them from generation to generation, until they become ritual, spiritual in and of themselves apart from their individual meanings.

It’s a little harder to see science as a story, but think of it this way: science starts with a question, moves forward into an investigation, and concludes with an answer, or, more commonly, another question. Data, no matter how sophisticated, is meaningless and inscrutable to almost everyone without analysis and context. We need to frame our results in a story before they can be disseminated and understood.

So how can we learn from stories?

We take it for granted that stories can preserve memories, teach us history, introduce us to the wisdom of the past. But we need new stories too, stories of fact as well as fiction, of the present, as well as of the past. If we can find a way to tell these stories, to fill our public discourse with stories of people and science and art and economics, then maybe we can also find a way to listen to them. And even if this alone is not enough, it might be a place to start.

Grace in Thought by Kyohei Yazawa '14

I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Michael well. But as a fellow political science major I did find myself sharing a class with him on multiple occasions. The first of these was Post-Modern Political Thought. Each person in the class had to lead a discussion on a particular day’s reading for the whole class, and so Michael and I found ourselves with the unenviable task of discussing a chapter from a work by Derrida. As I recall, on my assigned day our professor pulled the plug on my discussion after just a few minutes and took over.. The problem was that none of us, I think, really understood what Derrida had to say, and each person was therefore treading water in his or her own way by stealth obfuscation of what we had to say, or by throwing in a joke here and there.

To be honest, I remember almost nothing about Derrida’s writings now. What I remember today most strongly is that Michael, on his assigned discussion day, in utterly clear language and with an utterly serious face, did what no one else seemed to be able to do: he made Derrida make sense. He did so using no tricks, no cynicism. His tools were patience with the text, and respect for the author. He won my respect that day in return.

Skip forward one year: I found myself once more in a class with Michael, Michael found himself at the center of a controversy concerning an article he wrote for The Carletonian (October 4th, 2013) regarding the Carleton Microaggressions blog, and our poor professor found himself confined to his home due to a bad back. I therefore happened one day to be walking to our professor’s home together with Michael for a rescheduled class, and the first thing I asked from him was his opinions on the criticism that had been directed against his article, which had been coming from various social media platforms and campus publications with some speed and volume.

This for me was one of those questions that you ask with the answer already in mind, and perhaps because of this Michael’s response was quite surprising for me: he seemed to be actually genuinely interested in the response his article was getting, and wished to hear more of it, if anything! Even towards his harshest critics he didn’t forget his patience, and respect for the writer.

Thinking about my few memories of Michael recently has given me a lot on which to reflect regarding grace and virtue in reading and writing. I would bet that Michael didn’t see enemies in words: For Michael, Derrida was never a enemy standing between him and sweet sleep, and it seems like those who disagreed with his article at Carleton were at no point enemies for him either. What I felt from Michael instead was a constant desire to––understand.

So here’s my challenge: let’s practice graceful debate and graceful listening. For those of you who took issue with Michael’s article in question, perhaps you could try reading it again, along with Michael’s own response to it. You may still find ideas to disagree with, as I certainly did during my own recent re-reading. But I think that in the process of re-reading you will find some new ideas you overlooked on the first read, and then let a thousand unanswerable questions fill your mind with games of tug of war. Practice graceful listening in class, partake in graceful and serious talks at dinner, and then, if you are so moved, drop everything you have to do, open up that computer and start writing; your thoughts are too precious to be locked up behind a glass display case in your mind...

 

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