Standing in the Way

water-pipeBetween emails, marginal scrawl in books and on compositions, writing here and elsewhere, plus college recommendations demanding attention this fall, I’m producing a torrent of words. Sometimes I’m unsure if I’m the pipe or standing in front of it, meeting its relentless affront.

There’s no valve.

I like words and find I can understand and say little without them. Still I long sometimes for wordlessness, a vacation when I uncover an essay I’d meant to post and forgotten, when a poem surfaces pristine from the swamp of past work, or a letter appears from my sleep whole and otherworldly. Of course that never happens. Sentences demand assembly. They don’t present themselves. They’re summoned. They insist on being new.

People occasionally ask me if I’d like to make a living as a writer, and I think I would. But prose is so insistent, such a bossy presence, I worry I’d wallow in obligation and necessity. The life of a real writer is strange—what if words were everything, not just an urge or visitation but obsession, compulsion as deep as breathing? Perhaps it’s better to slum with words, better to vamp, better to blog.

The writing I like best is haiku. My attention to my subject is minute or distant or abstract and I can shape an aloof impression that’s not quite the thing but mimics its effect. The rest of writing means to clad its subject like polystyrene, hugging close, intending never to let go… though I want only to cast.

I like to let go. My best moments arrive when the narrowest light illuminates a subject. The rest of the time, I’m adjusting, adjusting, adjusting to stand something in the sun. Each movement suggests more manipulation, exploitation, intention. It’s work when it ought to be natural, as natural as speaking or being.

At its best, writing is revelation, the proper thing presenting itself at the proper time. I feel that state when I write haiku, as if I only uncovered what’d been buried. I might write “blank” to fill a syllable and the space instantly fills, as if the solution waited for worrying to pause. Some fate delays… and then is here.

Wanting to do well is hardly a help. When I’m writing something I know important, I stand at the doorway of a sentence or phrase or word for ten minutes. When the task is going right, only being receptive matters. If  the words shoot as from a fire hose, I accept them. They may know what I don’t. They intend to expose what I wouldn’t see without words.

I don’t know if I’ll ever understand “my process,” if “my process” exists at all. But understanding I’m part of what emerges helps me accept what appears.  The torrent has its own direction, its own compulsion, its own being. I’m in it but also watching, wondering at what I see.


Filed under Ambition, Desire, Doubt, Essays, Haiku, Hope, Identity, Kenko, Meditations, Thoughts, Voice, Work, Writing

2 responses to “Standing in the Way

  1. Hi, my apologies for leaving a long reply. Feel free to delete, once read. I tried to find the text online and it was not as easy as it should be, so I went into my school files. I taught this poem, by Aharon Amir, at the beginning of a unit on language and culture. Much of how the speaker feels about the loss of words seems to parallel some of what we feel about the process of writing.

    I woke up at night and my language was gone
    no sign of language no writing no alphabet
    nor symbol nor word in any tongue
    and raw was my fear–like the terror perhaps
    of a man flung from a treetop far above the ground
    a shipwrecked person on a tide-engulfed sandbank
    a pilot whose parachute would not open
    or the fear of a stone in a bottomless pit
    and the fright was unvoiced unlettered unuttered
    and inarticulate o how inarticulate
    and I was alone in the dark
    a non-I in the all-pervading gloom
    with no grasp no leaning point
    everything stripped of everything
    and the sound was speechless and voiceless
    and I was naught and nothing
    without even a gibbet to hang onto
    without a single peg to hang onto
    and I no longer knew who or what I was–
    and I was no more.


  2. “When the task is going right, only being receptive matters. If the words shoot as from a fire hose, I accept them. They may know what I don’t. They intend to expose what I wouldn’t see without words.”

    I know what you mean here. A little different but still interesting: I like to start writing with a phrase that enters my mind. I’ll put it on the page. Sometimes it is used, sometimes it falls away. But I often feel like it’s a stepping stone, a way to get to the story I will eventually write.

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