Rebecca M. Jarding


Artist’s Statement: A Journey of Discovery

Perhaps one of the most challenging obstacles I faced while working on my thesis was relinquishing the control that was hindering the development of my stories. I do not recall exactly when I acquired this sometimes inconvenient personality trait, but at some point in my young adult life, I became a planner. Not a compulsive one who must know what is happening and what will occur next at every point in her day. The kind of planner who writes extensive outlines before beginning a paper, who records every upcoming event in both her notebook and iPhone calendar. When I began writing short stories for my collection, I attempted to plan my narratives as well, beginning with at least a vague notion of how my story would start, unfold, and end. I had learned in my first creative writing course during my sophomore year of college to avoid this preciseness and control over my fiction writing; still, control proved difficult to give up.

Last fall, during a creative fiction writing course focused solely on the genre of short stories, I was reminded again to relinquish the control over my writing that was prohibiting the real stories from being told. I was reminded that writing is a process of discovery—not only about a story and its characters but about the writer as well. I was reminded that the reader and the writer alike should be surprised by a story’s outcome. Intricate outlines with fixed beginnings, middles, and ends are not necessary. All the writer needs to start a story is an idea. The rest will be discovered during the writing process. In planning my stories before writing them, I was not allowing the characters to grow and evolve as my stories unfolded.

Within a short story, the writer has the opportunity not only to embark on his or her own journey of discovery but also to provide the reader with a grain of truth, something the reader can enjoy, savor, use to more deeply understand the experience of human life. Through my stories, I attempt to provide the reader with this truth, this authenticity, this savory experience. Nearly every story included in this collection is a work of fiction (with the exception of Prem Dan, a nonfiction piece) that I have written in order to better understand an experience, an emotion, a curiosity, or an uncertainty in my own life. Once I began to fully embrace writing as a process of discovery, I realized that writing my stories helped me come to deeper understandings in my own life.

There is a raw power, a vulnerability, contained in an individual’s story and who the writer is willing to share it with. Words, though beautiful and capable of revealing hidden truths, have a certain danger, a risk, to them. Oftentimes one cannot begin to understand an individual until he or she learns the other’s story, regardless of any hastily made judgments. All of the characters I write about have their own aches and hidden wounds. In living their lives, they have encountered experiences that have brought them pain, while molding them into the individuals they have become, not unlike the reader experiencing the characters’ stories. Each character is searching, looking for meaning and understanding in her life. In this way, each character is a small reflection of myself, as I continue to search for answers to my own questions.

This past year has been one of profound discovery for me, a theme that transcends to my writing. I witnessed a beloved uncle regard his diagnosis of stage four terminal brain cancer as a gift that he graciously accepted throughout his entire experience, until his death last July. I went to India to serve with the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa. Here I witnessed joy and peace experienced by those who seemed to have the fewest reasons to be happy because of their overwhelming poverty and destitution. Religious sisters willingly took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, dedicating the rest of their lives to serving the poorest of the poor, each day following the same simple pattern as the one before. Individuals from young children to elderly men and women smiled joyfully at the care they received from volunteers coming from all over the world, neither requiring words to express the emotions they felt towards each other. I learned to be vulnerable and share life with the fourteen members of my mission group. We boarded an international airplane as complete strangers and returned to Chicago five weeks later united in strong bonds of friendship that only those who have undergone such life changing events together could understand.

Next year I will begin a two-year commitment to serve as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). After five weeks of training in Florida, I will move to one of nearly one hundred college campuses throughout America to invest in students, so that by our authentic friendships, they might grow more deeply in their relationship with Christ and learn how to effectively share Him with others. Evangelization through this means requires an understanding of people and how best to relate to them. Writing this collection has allowed me to increase my skills within this realm. As a writer, I have had to take the perspective of various characters, forcing myself to abandon my individual perspective as I write the story from each character’s distinct point of view. Writing in such a way has increased my ability to interpret situations from multiple vantage points and subsequently, my ability to understand others’ motivations for their actions and how past difficulties continue to affect them, shaping them into their present selves. This understanding of others will remain useful throughout my entire life, especially as I hopefully pursue a master’s or doctorate degree in psychology in the future.

One of the many books that has motivated me to become a better writer for the profound impact it has had on me is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The novel is a story of discovery in which a boy encounters many obstacles and learns how to follow his heart as he attempts to fulfill his Personal Legend. As the boy considers whether or not he is willing to leave everything he knows behind in order to pursue his Personal Legend, he comes to a realization. Coelho writes: “The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself” (28). In working on this compilation, I realized that the same words could be said about my own experience with writing. Oftentimes it is ourselves, rather than outside forces, that present the most challenging obstacles in achieving our goals, a truth that is evident in both my own lives and the lives of my characters. Once I moved out of the way and allowed myself to write, it is amazing how less daunting and more enjoyable the endeavor became. My hope is that in reading this collection, the reader too might discover a grain of truth to apply to his or her own life.