There is a certain vanity in writing about writing, but the act of writing is vanity in itself, so why not let myself go? That is, if you, dear readers, continue to please me.
As my loyal readers know, I am on campus as a member of the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). This is a one-year study and reflection program. I spend the most wonderful moments in class with students and teachers and I participate in the many social, sports and cultural activities available on campus. A central part of our program is teaching a class in our Designing an Inspired Life course. My teacher, Steve Reifenberg, encouraged me to teach writing. This regular column in The Observer has been a source of joy and reflection for me – far beyond what I had anticipated when I submitted my application last summer. Steve suggested that I call it: “Writing as a journey of discovery”. And, it has been.
Years ago, when I was a first-time student at Notre Dame, a friend and then the editor of The Observer asked me if I would occasionally report for her. I agreed. Little did I know that she was probably understaffed and would put me to work on the necessary but inconsequential piece. A review of The Observer archives finds five stories from this era. In a which aired on April 2, 1979 – probably published in a special edition of The Absurder – I even checked my name. Talk about vanity. I had a story published on the front page, although below the fold.
My corporate career wasn’t designed to hone my writing skills, although I always tried to be crisp and clear in memos and emails. The 600-word quarterly column I submit to Notre Dame Magazine for our class notes has done little to develop my writing chops, though it has brought me closer to all corners of our class.
Instead, I chose to write for The Observer this year with a few goals in mind: I hoped to perfect my craft, to achieve the clarity of mind that comes from creating a 700-800 word article . I wanted to explore a range of ideas, even create a spreadsheet to outline topics for one semester and then another semester. I know this way I took a different path than my fellow Viewpoint columnists, but it’s my path and it’s been rewarding. In fact, much more rewarding than I expected. As Professor Reifenberg suggested, writing at was a journey of discovery. And a discovery of things both anticipated and unexpected. I often start writing with one path in mind, one approach to a subject. I find that I discover a new angle along the way or a new dimension that I had not anticipated. I realize that what I choose not to write about is as important a decision as who makes the final cut. This montage is an essential form of self-reflection.
In fact, I started preparing for this column by reviewing the spring class offerings at Notre Dame. Did you know that Notre Dame offers 459 courses dedicated to writing? Presumably, a good number are duplicates of courses listed in a number of departments. My favorite is actually suggested by my academic advisor, Professor Jeff Speaks. One can sign up for PHIL 98696, Shut Up and Write – a community designed to help doctoral students of philosophy write their theses. An admirable goal, but not mine.
My writing for The Observer has been a journey of discovery. Which column I choose to write about is a conscious choice. I have to have something to say and feel it’s more important than any other ideas I might consider. I have to select the best words I have to use and some will be left behind. I will appeal to some, hopefully inspiring them to reflect and earn my place in the paper, especially in the print edition. I might even bother a few – hopefully for a good cause. I had the opportunity to remember two deceased friends. May I have done justice to their memories.
And, I have to admit, I enjoyed the responses I received. It’s not so much seeing my name in print, but the unsolicited reactions and recognition. I am seen and read. People have made a choice with their time. I have earned their consideration. I even reconnected with a friend from 40 years ago. As the semester and my time at ILI draw to a close, allow me one final conceit: thank you to the editors of The Observer, my fellow columnists and reporters, and my readers. This journey has been a discovery and you have guided my path, informed my writing and challenged me to be better. I couldn’t be more grateful. I have two more columns, so there you have it.
Mary Ellen Woods graduated from the Notre Dame Class of 1980. She returned to campus as a Fellow of the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). As an undergraduate, she lived in Breen-Phillips and now lives off campus. His columns appear every other Thursday. A longtime resident of Chicago, she can be reached at [email protected] or @MEWsmuses on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.