Saturday, July 30, 2011

You Are What You Eat

By Kerry Schafer


That's the point, really, isn't it? If we were impervious to all outside influences, either unwilling or incapable of letting anything penetrate our shells or change us in any way, what would we be?

Viruses, maybe. Or machines.

Anything alive must assimilate in order to grow.

If food passed through us whole and unchanged, we would receive no nourishment at all. We have to assimilate it, in order for it to be of any use. Our bodies break it down, process it, make it a part of muscle and blood and bone.

Same thing with ideas, experiences, emotions. If we insulate ourselves from these things, refuse to let them touch us, then what would we have to write about?

Many, many years ago now, I was privileged to take a class from a wonderful and gifted teacher, who taught me this. It wasn't a creative writing class - I can't remember exactly what its official title was, but the goal was teaching future teachers how to teach writing. And I learned more about creative writing, or any kind of writing for that matter, from Joan Rothstein Vandergriffe (bless you, wherever you are) than from any creative writing class I ever engaged in.

Joan pushed me. To write better, cleaner, clearer drafts. She refused to accept anything less than the best of me while encouraging, supporting, and teaching along the way. But more than any of this, she taught me the necessity of assimilation.

If you are writing something, anything, you must make it yours. It doesn't matter whether it's a research paper, a poem, or a novel. You must immerse yourself in it, understand it from the inside out, become the expert. Assimilate. Only then can you write about it with depth, feeling, and mastery.

For some of us, the writing itself is how we come to understand. So many emotions and experiences are stored away in our unconscious unexamined. It is in the process of writing that we are able, finally, to accept and understand. And change.


  1. Good point, Kerry. I often times drift off to sleep while working out part of my story, or while driving in the car, will turn off the radio and noodle a problem while I am driving.
    Sometimes I close my eyes and fully immerse myself in a scene, paying attention to every detail I see, smell, hear, etc

  2. "You are what you eat."

    "You write what you assimilate."

    I can live with that.