Sunday, June 27, 2010
Writing assignment #3 - creative nonfiction
Here’s the thing. They aren’t showing up. I would expect them to appreciate their role in this enterprise, to understand that without them, the job just can’t be done. Ironic, really, that I’m in a position of authority over them, yet I’m powerless to make them show up and work. They’re a rogue bunch; I’ve known that for a long time. But I thought after so many years together we had an understanding.
How dare I presume.
Anyone who writes knows this fragile relationship. The words decide the art. For some writers, the images are there, but the words to form them refuse to present themselves. For others the pesky little devils choose to clomp about and pout like surly children who won’t behave until you give them money to chase down the ice cream truck.
And what must I sacrifice to coax them onto the page? Really, I have nothing they want. They run the show, they know it, and that’s that.
It’s small comfort to know other writers—great writers—have struggled like I do. Borges laments, “What a writer wants to do is not what he does.” Faulkner nods his wise head in agreement, adding, “The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.” And, like a tight game of poker, Flaubert raises with “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sounds he hears within.” With the masters showing such hands, I find myself wanting to meekly fold and crawl under the table to sit at their feet.
Some call this battle of wills writer’s block. I think this a tragic misnomer. It’s much truer to call it word’s block; after all, it’s the words refusing the writer, not the other way around. They get together, decide on an embargo, and the writer is left with a notebook she cannot fill, or entire passages that serve little more purpose than a great pair of red heels on a jungle expedition. Why keep trying? Why struggle every day in hopes the words will give me even a nutshell of hope, a thimble of gold? Well, because, as the cliché goes, I don’t know any other way.
The poet Marie Ponsot, who at 89 years old recently suffered a stroke, finds herself searching for language—the words to poems she wrote, poems she loved, words that have disappeared inside her broken mind. She says it was, for her, an experience of “explosive astonishment—realizing that language is everything in the egg (tapping her head)…You take it for granted.”*
So words are not separate from me. They are me. Without words I cannot form my place in the universe with any real assurance. Perhaps the struggle isn’t that words won’t work with us, but that we fear the power they posses. We fear the heights they can take us, fear suffering a fate like Icarus,’ our own vanity sending us plunging into the depths of the sea. But words were made to fly close to the sun, so we best gather our courage and fly with them. If we refuse, they will simply go on without us.
*quoted from “After Stroke, a Poet Hunts for the Language Lost” by Jim Dwyer, printed in the New York Times June 25, 2010.