2017, Archives, February 2017, The MFA Years

On Snow and Fiction

Image: Nick Ford

When I travel north from the South, the South in the winter, the South that is grey-and-brown bleary and blurred with a sleepy, grungy sort of winter, the snow is captivating. The similes have all been written: snow like glitter, snow like a blanket, soft snow, white as snow, pure and sparkling. And it is enchanting, it is, this soft, unadulterated substance that dusts the earth.

Over winter break, we drove the 14 hours north (from my school, in South Carolina, to home in Chicago). We slowly progressed towards the cold.

I let myself be enchanted by the snow this year. It’s been a while. As we neared the Chicago suburbs, I pressed my face against the glass of my passenger seat window. I giggled involuntarily at the scene.

It is magical, mystical, and that, I think, is in the soft covering. The suppression, the gentle blanketing. Overnight, in a few hours of tufts drifting down, the world is clean and new. It’s pure and sublime.

It’s not us.

While watching the evening snowfall through my window, something struck me: the fleeting nature of this enchantment. Temporary, this purity, this glittering drifting veil.

This year has been ugly. It’s been full of anger, full of discrimination and shame and ugly words and harshness. And this ugliness isn’t done. Our nation has healing to do, but it also has work to do, hard work to bring about justice and care and to fight for those who can’t fight. I don’t think what we’re seeing is a turn for the worse; I think it’s an uncovering. The exposure isn’t something to fight. We should not wish to blanket the ugly—we should embrace this uncovering, painful as it is, so that we can fight against what is ugly underneath and work toward growth. I won’t assume for a second to know how to do this, but my vote would be a return to our humanity and commonality.

What the snow does: it covers those grey sidewalks with their flattened, darker-grey gum patches. It covers the dog shit in the parks, the mucky puddles in parking lots. It covers with white, with pure, with intricate designs of crystal. If only our society had a reset like this I thought while watching this snow float down, my face pressed against the car window.

But no. Covering doesn’t heal; blanketing doesn’t repair what’s underneath. Snow is temporary, and it soon melts. It is plowed so that we can get on with our lives, so that we can get on to our jobs and our endlessly busy schedules of do-see-make. It becomes sludge, and then it is gone. We’re left with what’s uncovered.

I’ve been grappling, in this difficult year, of what the role of a writer should be in a broken world. I’m in graduate school for my MFA in fiction—to what purpose? Why write things that don’t exist, people who haven’t been born, events that have transpired? What’s the point?

Art can make an impact. Art can certainly be a catalyst for change. But when the ugliness and brokenness is deeply ingrained in society, we need more than a gentle catalyst.

In my MFA program, I’m surrounded by observers, feelers, thinkers. Writing requires examining and imagining. Within the fiction discipline in particular, my peers are habitual empathizers. We spend our time crafting voices and characters often vastly different than ourselves. We use our own experiences as insight into the human condition. We feel, we observe, and we write.

The weeks after the election, my classes were quiet, heavy, shaded by fear. Heavy with the fears of my cohort, but also heavy with the fears they observe in all of society.

Writing, to me, is about shedding light on the human condition. It’s about what we have in common, the good and the bad.

“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are,” says Anne Lamott of writers. Sometimes, the understanding is uncomfortable.

In some senses, maybe we artists are a little like snow. We offer a moment to focus on something carefully created instead of what’s unpleasant and present.

This, though, like all covering, must be temporary. What I write will be likely forgotten, and that is okay. It’s okay as long as, somehow, what I write also illuminates a commonality. Humanity, all of us, we fear. We experience joy and pain and confusion. Art reminds us of that; fiction reminds us of that.

Effort will be necessary to change this splintering country, so necessary, but it’s also crucial, I think, to remember how much we have in common. As I continue my MFA, that will be my focus: the human condition and our universal ability to sympathize, because like it or not, we’re not as different as we’d sometimes believe. I think fiction proves that.


Hannah Ford grew up in Coldwater, Michigan and graduated from Hope College with an English degree. She is attending the University of South Carolina to pursue her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Fiction). She reads as an associate editor for USC’s renowned journal, Yemassee. Hannah has been published in The 3288 Review, Lunch Ticket, Lipstickparty Mag, and Opus. She has been awarded for her writing in both fiction and nonfiction.

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