Maya Lyn Viet Nam Veterans Memorial
WHEN THERE IS NO ARCHITECTURE
When Veteran’s Day came last weekend here in the US war wasn’t hard to imagine. The daily news of Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Hamas. What can we do?
Maya Lin was a college student at Yale when her design was chosen. The monument was dedicated in 1982. Controversy followed. A compromise reached. In 1984 the statue of three servicemen and a flag were added. And in 1993 the Vietnam Womens Memorial. The controversy reflected the national controversy that had surrounded the war. But, single-handed, she had redefined the idea of a war monument itself. For this and other reasons, she’s listed among the 10 most successful female architects here https://www.arch2o.com/women-in-architecture-10-successful-female-architects-you-should-know/ along with Zaha Hadid who appeared in an earlier post here.
As writers, we don’t build with granite, cement, wood or steel. What we build is an invisible architecture. Like architects, are builders of meaning. And like architects, we too build a structure that is bigger than we are.
Like architects, we must try to build what we alone can see. To build congruent with the way we alone perceive this complex world in which we find ourselves.
As writers, we have to come closer to the absolutes which drive us. And work from there. I, for example, believe that every heart hungers for the Absolute in some way. Hungers for a cause worthy of itself. And I would further say, that every heart hungers for that One Cause that is largest of all, which is love. We each have these creeds inside. To make art, we have to come to know these creeds in some way.
When the war in Ukraine was just starting, a friend and I were walking to get coffee after mass. On Fillmore in front of a large Ukraine flag three large tables were set up, stacked with of fresh baked goods. Behind the tables young adults, women and men, were standing. The bake sale was to aid their parents and grandparents who knew no other language and so refused to leave Ukraine.
What moved me most was one woman’s story of her parents now sheltered in what used to be a children’s nursery school. The elderly sitting on chairs designed for 3 year olds. Elderly with joint problems, walkers, canes. Our church has already sent over a million dollars to Dominican Catholics in Poland, where the Dominican order has been for almost 800 years. But still, I thought, This is what it’s like when there is no architecture.
I thought of Anna Akhmatova standing in a bread line, Stalin in high gear, and a woman approached and asked, “Can you write about this?” She said, “Yes.” And she did. Becoming one of the most important poets of the 20th century.
As writers we can do very small things. We can dedicate one of our readings to a cause that doesn’t have to relate to the writing itself. We can effect public memory. We can build a small memorial in a bookstore. An invisible but nonetheless, a real memorial.
I was reading to read at Prairie Lights in Iowa City when the very ancient tomb of the even more ancient prophet Jonah in Mozul was instantly blown to oblivion. The video footage on youtube was unbelievable. I read the Jonah chapter that night, as a result. But maybe more important, I dedicated to those who had committed the crime. To a better language between warring parties. To peace. It’s on my website, which loads slowly, mea culpa, at about, I think, 10 minutes.
We can bring into public memory, the devastation of war. But we can also bring joy, energy, hope, and gratitude into the public sphere. This is our power. I think this is also our duty as writers.
So I’ve decided today that next month, my final post on Architecture should be different. That we should, together, build a kind of architecture. An invisible architecture, like the texts we build. Built with words. Built by us, as a group.
I invite each of you to think back over 2023. To come up with one singular thing you did for the sake of your writing this year. Put it into sentence. Then send it to me. You can use your full name, your pseudo name, no name. Pick one thing. (e.g. I wake up one hour earlier now. I found an agent. I decided to begin and wrote one sentence. I hired a babysitter.)
It will be a kind of roll call. An honorary roll call. Send to my website: maryrakow.com. And do so by Dec 1st. In other words, maybe do it now .
Here’s how I would make a lovely email I received this morning into a one sentence brick for the monument we can build together. And I did ask permission .
My poetry book Remember This Day was published by Finishing Line Press! L.D.
Thank you for continuing to send writers my way. It is a great help as I move deeper into the seclusion of this form of life. Love to edit. Don’t love self-promotion! I am now scheduling for 2024. For inquiries please visit maryrakow.com.
Let’s meet on the white of the page!
Mary Rakow, Ph.D. novelist and freelance editor in the Bay Area, works with local
and global clients who seek to publish traditionally, self- or hybrid. She blogs
monthly for SFWC about inspiration in the writing process and works in the Free 8-
Minute Editing room at the Conference in February.
A Mentor for PEN USA/West’s Emerging Voices program, Instructor for UCLA
Extension Writers Program, and presenter in workshops for Harvard Club of San
Francisco, Rakow is rigorous and encouraging, insightful and kind.
A theologian with graduate degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Boston
College, Rakow’s debut novel, THE MEMORY ROOM was shortlisted for the Stanford
University International Saroyan Prize in Literature, a PEN USA/West Finalist in
Fiction and was listed among the Best Books of the West by The Los Angeles Times.
She was awarded a $75,000 Lannan Fellowship and given two month long Lannan
Residencies in Marfa, TX.
Mary writes with deep feeling and a questioning faith. Her second novel, THIS IS
WHY I CAME earned excellent reviews in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post,
The Atlantic, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Commonweal, Christian Century, O Magazine,
Ploughshares. It appeared on reading lists for courses at Princeton and Yale.
Interested in the visual arts, Rakow received two residencies at Whale & Star in the
studio artist Enrique Martinez Celaya where she was commissioned to write the
first book-length treatment of the artist’s work, MARTINEZ CELAYA, WORKING
Mary is a beloved editor and writing coach. Always on the look-out for serious
writers, she enjoys working with those just starting out and those with publications
For inquiries please visit maryrakow.com
© Mary Rakow, 2023