On Writing

obsidian-hungary-DSC07619During the dust bowl, plains residents couldn’t keep their houses clean. Another storm arrived before they swept every corner and crack. Worse, even gentle breezes brought more dust, as if, once it found its way in, nothing kept it out.

The simplest impact of Sisyphus’ damnation is its endlessness—he rolls the rock up the hill and it rolls down over and over—but living in the story reveals deeper trouble. Once readers learn the central act of the story, no other iteration is necessary, and they don’t care for another telling. But, if you are inside the story, Sisyphus rolls his stone still. He knows answers to questions readers don’t bother to ask and inhabitants of the story can’t help asking, like whether he keeps his belief in success, whether some compulsion even worse than gravity drags him up and down, whether he resists and obeys each time, whether he’s tired and growing more so, whether he remembers particular trips, or his thoughts during any particular trip, or any time before the act of rolling began, whether his hands and legs and body become abstract, a machine busy as his mind moves different directions.

Lists fill from the top. Some people empty them each day or week. Others empty them from time to time, refusing anything new until nothing remains to be done. More people carry their lists, hoping the deepest items will wait or that recording tasks means their day is due and sure to arrive. And some people don’t make lists, pushed along by a need to do and do and attending to whatever speaks.

Some mornings are restless because you spent the night at work. Though memories of your dreams may lie like puddles from a missed storm, you know some torrent passed. You’ve been busy. The day begins with that feeling and continues from it, awaiting action and demanding movement toward shifting destinations according to shifting motivations.

“OCD” is now a casual term, a label for anything that seems excessively thorough or painstaking. “Can you say ‘OCD’?” someone asks. How-true, how-true, listeners laugh and nod. For those with the condition, life must seem very different. They return to the present to find themselves washing their hands again or placing items on a table just so. They discover they can’t leave the house because their inventory of gestures can’t be checked adequately. They touch and they turn and they look and they bend and they adjust and they begin again and they remain trapped, as if some dimly remembered spell lurked just in shadow. Another invitation might draw it out to open the lock at last.

Imagine a new coin resting on the muddy bottom of a pond. The shallow water allows the sun to glint from the coin. Imagine it’s gold. You reach into the water to retrieve it—even if it isn’t yours, you want to see it and hold it because it’s beautiful. Yet, when you reach, silt stirs and the water clouds. The coin disappears so no amount of groping finds it. The coin slips deeper into the pond bed, and now not even waiting for water to settle will discover it.

Essays begin with searching. The word “essay” means to try or attempt, and writing one is mining, pursuing veins through rock, trying—with only imagination—to recreate the shape of what’s valuable amid what’s not. All of it is solid, all dark, all hidden.

Truly abetting frustrations never die because they aren’t in resolutions. They are in desire deeper and broader than specific outcomes. Paradoxically, getting what you want can be the worst outcome, as it turns you toward new goals and swells expectations.

Writers do finish. They determine they cannot pick up pens again, throw their hands in the air and cry “Enough.” Maybe they succeed in finding quiet at last or reach some truce with need and sit, Buddha-like, surveying desire as it were an obsidian block that only exists. You want to believe that moment will arrive, but who knows? Who looks into another mind, and why couldn’t that thought, like any other, be wishful? In any case, how do you become Buddha? Buddha couldn’t really say.

The sun angles along the floor and reveals the surface isn’t clean after all. It’s a crash site strewn with dropped crumbs, unnoticed spills, and dust. The sun will climb, and the floor will appear clean again. You will know it’s not.

When Romeo tells Benvolio about loving Rosaline, Benvolio advises him not to think of her. Romeo replies, “Oh teach me not to think.” As is Shakespeare’s way, he says everything in one phrase every author wants to equal. You have to wonder at human beings’ faith in thought despite all evidence thought is futile. When does it end? When does satisfaction come?

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5 Comments

Filed under Aesthetics, Ambition, Art, Blogging, Buddhism, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Metaphor, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Work, Worry, Writing

5 responses to “On Writing

  1. All the same, let’s try to make something beautiful that defies all the dust of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  2. 6vicky7

    This is one of the wisest articles about writing and human impulses I have ever read – every paragraph is full of deep query. I wondered whether I could reblog it on my blog poetrytherapynews?

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