Wednesday, September 22, 2010
“Consulting the rules of composition before taking
a photograph is like consulting the laws
of gravity before going for a walk.”
I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless,
as it extends into the world around us,
it goes an equal distance
into the world within.
To walk you gotta know just where you’re going, don’t you? Or you might get lost. To write you have to know what you want to say, don’t you? Or you might get lost.
So that you don’t get lost in writing, your thoughts gotta be outlined either on paper or, at least, in mind. That’s what I used to think. My ducks needed to be lined up; my pencil had to be perfectly sharp; a particular kind of paper was required. And, perhaps the hardest to come by, an entire day free to write, no other work to do, no other person in the yard, let alone the house. A fine grasp on grammar was essential (and that was never, never going to happen in this lifetime).
The thought that I needed to know, pretty damn precisely, absolutely and exactly, what I wanted to say, threw daggers at me, time and time again, and sealed my mouth shut with cut-proof thread. The fact that that’s a lie, is a great revelation. It took a long time for that thread to melt, but eventually, through great persistence, it did.
Here’s the deal: if you begin, with just the smallest inkling of what you want to put on the paper and those words touch down, as the ink dries, words that had been lining up to be next as you wrote the first ones will come crawling or waltzing or climbing from your heart-mind onto the page! As they settle into their places the next ones have already formed and are becoming ink, making trees to stand up on the plain of white snow.
To write well, just like in walking, getting lost is often a good thing! You can end up in some pretty cool places. You’ll say things you’d never say if you knew exactly where you were.
I also used to think I had to be really, really smart. Far smarter than I was. I wish it hadn’t taken me till I was in my early 40’s to realize how smart I am. Part of the smartness one needs in writing is faith that their instincts are trustworthy, that their perceptions are interesting and credible, that their curiosity will serve them. It took me one hell of a long time to get there, and I’m no longer interested in placing blame anymore. I’d be a different writer had I gotten here another way. In fact, here wouldn’t be here; it would be over there somewhere. And I actually like the writer I am and I pretty well like where I am.
The other difficulty was theplague of self-doubt, a kind of binding, another thread that sewed me shut. Stitch-by-stitch by pressing my tongue against the thread over and over, biting through it finally—via the act of writing—the thread broke. I broke the thread! William Stafford said, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken." Me too. I was broken too. And those broken parts make us the writers we are. The breaks aren’t the problem; thinking that they are is the problem.
I can’t say as I ever actually believed in myself as a writer, until I wrote my book Writing and the Spiritual Life, but I always believed in writing. My mother introduced me to poems and stories when I was a baby. Like the poet John Ciardi, in his poem “Echoes,” said, “Love echoes love...for my need to be held in the telling, apart from true or false... except that it pleased me to be touched in the telling.” That was all that was required.
I want to write. And I want to walk. I want the air filling my lungs that comes from both forms of expression. Both take me to new places, to caves and hollows and windy places, vistas that can be arrived at no other way.
Posted by Patrice Vecchione at 7:18 AM