Friday, June 1, 2012

In times like these, why write?

I am driven to write. The more I do it, the more driven I am. It starts crowding out all the other things I need to do, like make a living. Writers mostly have to do something else to make a living. A sad statement about the culture, really. This isn't just true of writing, but all the arts. The culture doesn't value a masterfully written poem, or a painting that makes one gasp, or question the social and psychological constructs of our world.

But writers are also challenged by the sheer volume of words. Words proliferate. They pour off our computer screens and smart phones with a thousand apps and cable TV. And as they proliferate, they get louder and louder until we are all just shouting at each other trying to be heard. That's how it seems to me, anyway. And I am so weary with all the shouting. So more and more, I just turn it off.

Most of us know that not all words are equal. And we know they can be used to destroy, to manipulate, to construct false worlds, even to shape values, including some very destructive ones (Hitler, for example, was a master of words when up on a platform in front of adoring masses).

Well, anyone reading this has an answer to the post title question. Mine is this: We write because we have to. But rather than shout, rather than add to the cacophony, what I try to do, and what I seek, is to carve the spaces within all that noise where it/I can become quiet again. When I was young, I used to look forward to the summer, those long lazy weeks when I could curl up with a good book and just savor it. When I loved a book, my reading would really slow down as the end approached. It was like a tender loving relationship that you just didn't want to end.

I have been inspired by new initiatives like the 'slow food' movement. Buying or growing real food, taking time to prepare it, to savor the smells as it cooks, to taste it, really taste it - these are pleasures we have put aside in our haste and in our disdain for raw authentic experience. We eat on the run, or while playing a video game, or with the TV news blaring.

Does raw immediate experience of our senses and our emotions really scare us so? I think we have arrived at just such a pathology.

I'm for a 'slow reading' movement, a 'slow savoring of the arts.'  When I lived in the DC area, where all the Smithsonian museums were free, I used to stop to visit my favorite paintings. I miss them, like old friends. As in any relationship, the more time spent, the more you come to know all the nuances, the subtleties, the complexities - not just of the work of art, but of the relationship, one's own responses. It becomes an ongoing conversation.
There are five holy places in the body:
the heart, the spirit, the secret, the mysterious,
and the deeply hidden.

These are the ones with the power
of gentling the human...

       Linda Hogan, from her poem, "Gentling the Human"

I have probably read this poem a few dozen times by now, sometimes out loud to others as a meditation or source of reflection. I never get tired of it. I savor it. It opens its mysteries, and the mysteries it expresses, over and over again for me. Go find it. It's in her volume, Rounding the Human Corners.

You can't hurry through a poem like this, and you can't read it only once. In fact, you barely begin to penetrate its insight into the human in only a reading or two.

Working on this 'more-than-memoir' right now, and dabbling in some poetry (I will have a poem published this fall, which is thrilling, my first), I find myself desiring this: writing something, even just a sentence or a turn of a phrase, that a reader might want to read again, and then maybe yet again...and each time to find that, deep inside themselves, something begins to open.

I write in times like these because I think this is necessary - necessary for our survival. If we can't shut off the noise and really listen to what is going on within us and within and among all our relations with humans and all the sentient and non-sentient beings among whom we live and move and have our own being, we will miss the crucial signals that are telling us how much trouble we're in and what we need to do to survive.

Those signals pulse all through our being, through our bones and our veins, from the heart to the brain and out into the world, and from the world back into our heart pulse. We have lost our ability to hear that and therefore to live from it - which is the only way we will be able to continue to live at all.

I'll keep writing, and hope to get more work published. And I will look forward to curling up on some of those warm summer days with my favorite poets and essayists, and with a few great novels, and I will turn off the noise, and I will let my life be changed by their words. I search for some wisdom in that. And I hope it makes me a better writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment