On Structure and Purpose

Last semester, I taught a creative non-fiction writing workshop. All semester, I repeated this phrase like a mantra to my students: structure and purpose, structure and purpose.

I meant their essays. But I’m coming to see this as a mantra for life, especially a writing life. If I want something to fit in my life, I have to create the right structure, a structure that can hold what I want it to hold.

What does this mean, at the level of the day? Of the week? Of the month?

How can I structure my life so that it contains what I want it to contain?

I think of Rilke, what he says about the urge to write in Letters to a Young Poet: “[Y]our life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”

But I also think of the dailiness of parenting small children, of how many ways there are to structure (or not structure) time, and how differently the days feel in their various manifestations.

I’ve been browsing through Janet Penley’s book Motherstyles, and thinking about how much personality (and especially introversion/extraversion) affects the way we parent, how much we enjoy certain aspects of parenting, etc. Thinking once again about how particular we are, and how certain features of our lives (e.g. motherhood) can obscure particularity rather than reveal or celebrate it. It’s important to resist this trend, I think, in whatever way we can.

I’ve also been reading Tom Hodgkinson’s excellent book The Idle Parent, which I highly recommend. It is a wonderful antidote to what Penley calls “the myth of the ideal mother.” Hodgkinson’s idea of parenting is all the parents at one end of a long field drinking locally crafted IPA, all the kids at the other end of the field running about, playing with sticks and rocks and elaborate constructions of their own imaginations.

So, in the spirit of pairing structure with purpose, at the end of this day’s work, I’d like to suggest a bit of idleness—some elaborate constructions of our own imaginations, perhaps a locally crafted IPA to go along with them. Though maybe we should all do one better—go find some friends, a field.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>