"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

03 November 2005

Aiming for the Chopping Block

I sent a review/essay off today to a journal I've wanted to publish in for a very long time. I'd sent an earlier draft and received good advice, so it will be good to find out how close I've "got" it now.

When I write, I feel fully alive. The first phase is hardest -- getting down on paper what it is I want to say. The striving for clarity, for coherence, for internal logic, for something truly worthy of my time and the time of others . . . Once that is roughly accomplished, my favorite part begins -- making it say that idea how I want it said. Striving now for conciseness without loss of meaning, the telling detail, the most effective syntax, precise diction, making it exactly right -- or as close as a mere human can ever come.

When I write, I learn. Not just about the subject matter, but about myself. How I think, how I work, how I relate to ideas but also how I relate to people. I am reminded of the value of patience and revision, the need to be quiet and listen, to let the work be the focus instead of myself. All of these I need continual lessons in as I try to be a wife, a mother, a colleague, a friend, a teacher.

from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life:

"Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know.

"The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right and your daring as a necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with your life's strength: that page will teach you to write.

"There is another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block."

Writing brings me fully alive, because it connects me as nothing else but childbirth ever has with reality.


Cindy said...

Strong stuff. Lots of meat.

Concerning your last sentence ("Writing brings me fully alive, because it connects me as nothing else but childbirth ever has with reality.")--the reality of childbirth is, perhaps, not exactly the most [i]encouraging[/i] metaphor to give a would-be writer. :)

Although Great Scott, after teaching for several years, holds strongly that were MORE writers discouraged in the flush of their literary aspirations, it would be a good thing. ;)

Seriously, Beth. Strong post. I think you are much more a writer than am I. By far.

alaiyo said...

I must say I tend to agree with Great Scott at times . . . :)

Seriously, thank you, LuCindy. I guess your last remark depends upon what we mean when we say "writer," yes? All I know is that I yearn for the time, time to write, yes, but time to do so much that would contribute to the writing in *different* ways than what I do now, that would help me know more of the things most important to me . . .

Ah, but . . . who knows? One lives a day at a time and tries not to look at too much else -- at least on days like today.

Blessings on you, my friend.


GrumpyTeacher1 said...

I'm gratified to be used as a source, but if my students approaced writing like you too do, I wouldn't want to discourage them. I would weep with gratitude.

The post was lovely. Thanks for reminding me of why I want more time to do it myself.

alaiyo said...

Hi, Scott -- you are welcome! And I hope that you do find that time somewhere, too. Inscapes has helped me to at least not go insane from not writing at all.

And oh, yes, the students who care . . . I have one this semester who is so wonderfully pursuing writing -- what a precious gift she is.

Blessings on you,


Lisa (Froggyhead) said...

Oh Beth! You gave me goosebumps on my goosebumps! Thank you.

Fieldfleur said...

I loved the Dillard quote. Her use of language has always swept me away.
Rootin' for you,

alaiyo said...

Thanks for comin' by, Lisa and Teri!