Last week, when I was downloading The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing to my Kindle, I noticed a book of essays by her called Prisons We Choose to Live In, and ordered it. I didn’t realise, but it had been first released in the late 1980s. I read them this week and am now even sadder that she died recently as I would love to know her latest thoughts about life in the 21st century and the impact of social media.
This series of essays is fascinating, particularly for those who lived and were politically active during the last 60 years. In Prisons We Choose to Live In, Doris Lessing addresses the importance of mankind’s primitive, instinctive behaviour, particularly in relation to war and conflict. She discusses the scary prevalence of the ‘group mentality’ (the herd effect) and also the importance of the ‘individual’ or ‘elite’ in terms of provoking change. Throughout the essays she urges that people question their behaviour, assess their attitudes, and consider why they act as they do. She says if we, as individuals, were able to do this, the world would be a better place. But, she also maintains that this goes against our nature and Governments cannot help us for they exist to maintain the status quo. Doris Lessing therefore places this responsibility at the feet of story tellers… historians and writers. It is they who reveal and build on the experience of human kind.
So, I have a job. This week I received an MA in Writing from NUI Galway. I was looking forward to the celebration: the family dinner, the donning of the cloak and mortar board, the few drinks. I hadn’t really considered the ‘value’ or ‘significance’ of the work I had done in the last year or what it meant. At the conferring ceremony, the Registrar and President referred to the long academic tradition, to the achievements of academia and the role played by universities in society…great pomp and circumstance. But, it was only after reading Doris Lessing this week that I really thought about the title of Writer that the MA in Writing has conferred upon me and that as such, I have responsibilities… so readers…be warned!
Seriously, it was a great week. The pomp, ceremony and celebration did help me understand the importance of the Degree (although the parchment does not specify in what I have been conferred) and how it was an achievement. It is too easy to shrug off such things. And Doris Lessing reminded me that how with such achievement comes responsibility. I do not have her skills or abilities, but a writer reflects his or her society for no person is an island, and therefore can help foster and share ideas and forge positive change.
Thank you to everyone who helped me through the year…whether with money, encouragement, love or acts of kindness. I hope, as readers, you do not live to regret it!
After the Grad, our MA class launched our anthology, The Adventure Hat which we produced as The Black Fort Writers. It is an eclectic mix of short stories, prose, poems, reviews and non fiction. Here are a few photographs.