Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Post Hoc

During the day as I think about things, I sometimes think about writing them down or exploring in writing what I am thinking about. When I actually sit down to do that, a barrier between what I thought earlier and words on the page forms itself like a fog out of the gap between my ideas and my words. This is a cliché, of course. I become aware that the ideas in my head are abstractions with emotions of the moment adhering to them so they seemed to have some substance at the time. But to write about them, I must translate the ideas into substantial statement constructed of images and events and metaphors and direct experiences with their root systems intact. This is so formidable an undertaking that I give up before I start.

To ferret out the underpinning of that laziness, two questions would be worthwhile:

  1. Do I believe that it is possible to make those connections, that by trying to, I could create something true and moving?

  2. What will it accomplish if I do make the connections?

The answer to the first one is a resounding, "Yes." I believe in the magic of words since I have experienced the way that, as I handle them, they talk back to me. All those people who lived before me and shaped the language I inherited from my culture in expanding circles around my family, the collective experience of millions is captured in the delicate attraction and repulsion in the spaces between words that create the linguistic network, which reflects the neural network that both shapes and contains it. So the language itself sheds light on what I try to put into it. That may be part of the thrill I sometimes feel when I find the right words, which at once embody and clarify my thoughts, moving the meaning that crucial one more click so something is unlocked. All that takes effort, but I have no doubt that with effort it can be done, and though starting the process can require great energy, the process itself is regenerative and exhausting both.

The second question is more complex and it is there that I am vulnerable. I have often gone back to John Fowles' The Tree to be reassured that the act of creating art is the important thing; the art itself is a kind of souvenir of that act (perhaps in the way vacations should be about the experience not the photographs). And while I still cling to that in the face of my rejection slips, I still wonder if such a rationale is enough to sustain the effort. Perhaps—despite Johnson's "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money"—perhaps the best motivation for writing is to discover something, use language to explore the world.

But still, it would be good to share it, to have others read what I have written and have them tell me they found it, they found it what? I suppose anything, that they learned something from it. I was wondering today whether I want to inspire people to action, and decided maybe I did not want to. Burke says, I believe, that an idea is an incipient act. I want to write things that give people ideas, complex enough so that they do not convert directly to action, but will engender action, will influence it, will be input into a process. When I wrote for Mountain Home, however, though I was pleased when people commented on what I wrote, the writing did not feel that much different from all the other writing I was doing that went off into a dark hole.

So that second question needs some qualification. Perhaps what it needs is a list of what I might accomplish, and then an evaluation of how likely I am to accomplish it: I may build a good character as a person by writing, but no reputation as a writer.

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