your brain out.
Please forgive me.
But now I can make stew
out of you.
I feel exactly as though someone has taken my brain out when it comes to writing, and maybe they’re making stew somewhere and will bring it back, but I’m not sure. Writing my Lenten blog had a purpose and a structure that I can’t seem to reproduce. I thought the “43 Eternal Truths” was an intriguing enough new structure, or new purpose, but the embarrassing truth is that it’s just not. Not for me, anyway. Writing it feels like this definition of apology:
“an inferior specimen or substitute; makeshift, as in ‘The tramp wore a sad apology for a hat.'” (www.dictionary.com)
Ironically, number 3 of the 43 Eternal Truths is: “You can’t get there from here, and besides, there’s no place else to go.” I’ve been going around and around with this for about a week, and nothing feels right. I don’t like it, I’m not even sure what it means, and writing in response to things like that makes me feel like a performing seal.
Some writers can write in response to anything, any instruction or direction or exercise. I’ve tried this–things like “make a list of random words and write a poem using each word at the end of each line,” or “write 200 words about ‘saying goodbye,” and I immediately feel like someone has asked me to start spontaneously speaking Croatian. This week, I tried skipping ahead to the 4th Eternal Truth, hoping that might feel inspiring, but that one is: “We are all dying and are going to be dead for a long time,” and I could actually feel the neural pathways in my brain start to collapse as I read that.
Now, at this moment, the ironic part is that indeed I can’t get to where I wanted to go via this route–from there to here or whatever it is–and it’s taken me this long to realize it. The lovely aspect of a blog is that you are directly connected to readers when you have written something worth reading; the embarrassing aspect of blog is that you are directly connected to readers when you have not.
My uncle, a very gifted and complicated man who does not have access to a computer, recently asked me to send him some of my writing. At his sister’s suggestion, I printed out the Lenten blog and sent it to him. It was 120 pages, and this felt ridiculous to me, but she told me he would “love it,” so I sent it anyway. And now we’re talking about it on the phone, which makes me feel both quietly excited and completely uncomfortable. He told me that after the first 7 pages, he thought, “Wow, the kid can write.” And then he told me, “But you use the word ‘meaningful’ too much.”
“This is just my pet peeve,” he explained, “but ‘meaningful’ is one of those words that doesn’t really mean anything. You can say that something ‘has meaning,’ but things are never really ‘full of meaning.'” Nothing is ever really ‘full of meaning,’ because there is always room for more. There is always some other aspect, something else to consider, some other way to look at things.”
I love this, even though I’m not sure why yet.
When he had finished reading the whole thing, he left me a voicemail that said that he loved it, that it reminded him of a line from a Pay Conroy novel about oblique writing because it wasn’t oblique at all, and that he hoped we could talk more about it. “And it was even ‘meaningful,'” he said, laughing his strange tired old man’s laugh.
I hope we can too, even though I find it very difficult to look back at things I’ve written. I mean, I edit pieces to death BEFORE I post them, but once it’s done, it’s done, and it embarrasses me to go back to it, to claim it. My uncle’s reading of the Lenten blog has been like having someone waving a hand in front of my face and saying, “Hello? I thought we were writing here?? Where are you going? I thought we had a deal.”
David Whyte says that writing is like overhearing yourself say things that you didn’t know you knew. I have definitely found this to be true, even though he’s talking about poetry when he says it. But it’s even better if you can actually listen to yourself, to care enough about what you’ve said.
So I’m still looking for direction, and I know it’s out there, somewhere. One thing I can tell you for sure is that tomorrow I’ll have a story to tell you about an unexpected development in my “Spreading Cheer at Work Project.” I hope you’ll stick with me for it.
Today’s poem is called “Lost,” by David Wagoner. It’s a retelling of a Native American “teaching story,” and what an elder would say to a child if asked, “What do I do if I am lost in the woods?”
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.