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So I read, lost, every day

In not writing, this is what hurts: not so much the absence of story or fiction or mere text, word count and progress, but the absence of words. True words. Any words. It is hard to lose the part of one's self that thinks in the rhythm of words; the part that sees the movement of water across a flooded lawn and tries to name its shape; the part that sees the first spring buds on the branches by the window and wonders how to shape a sentence, a line, a phrase to evoke this brief moment of joy, this brief flash of green.

To walk as one blind to everything surrounding; to speak only trivialities. To have nothing to say. Nothing at all worth hearing to say.

And I remember that there were ... are ... stories that can make the words come back.

I find on my shelf a book long forgotten, left unread since my final days in university. A funny book, this -- pieces of books, truly, and essays and short fiction and poetry, all bound together and called the Annie Dillard Reader. I'd never read anything by Annie Dillard before this text was assigned and have not read anything by her since -- and yet I suddenly remember how her words were an inspiration. I admired their precision, the shifting balance between obvious simplicity and stunning complexity.

Over and over again I'd read the piece "An Expedition to the Pole," having been shocked all but speechless by it the first time, the structure and deftness of that essay which spoke of polar exploration and the quest for God through formalized religion, and made them one. And over and over again I'd read one paragraph:

I walk in emptiness; I hear my breath. I see my hand and compass, see the ice so wide it arcs, see the planet's peak curving and its low atmosphere held fast on the dive. The years are passing here. I am walking, light as any handful of aurora; I am light as sails, a pile of colorless stripes; I cry "heaven and earth indistinguishable!" and the current underfoot carries me and I walk.

I used to read it aloud, just to feel the way the words tasted, the movements of my tongue as I shaped them.

And now:

I sit down on the edge of my bed and flip the book open right near the end, the lamp on the bedside casting a glow both warm and soft across the pages. A few paragraphs in I begin to read aloud. My voice is slow and stumbling as if from disuse, nervous to be speaking so -- here, in my empty room, in an empty apartment with the rain pounding outside. It is like being in school again, a classroom of one, and the text seems wholly unfamiliar, and my mouth is dry as I speak.

I stumble. I hesitate. I reach and fumble and stutter to a stop, only to begin again.

And this is how I read the lines I think I was meant to find today, a hidden piece from Holy the Firm:

Two years ago I was camping alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. I had hauled myself and gear up there to read, among other things, James Ramsy Ullman's The Day on Fire, a novel about Rimbaud that made me want to be a writer when I was sixteen; I was hoping it would do it again. So I read, lost, every day sitting under a tree by my tent, while warblers swung in the leaves overhead and bristle worms trailed their inches over the twiggy dirt at my feet; and I read every night by candlelight, while barred owls called in the forest and pale moths massed round my head in the clearing, where my light made a ring.

"Oh," I say quietly, and let the book fall.

There is a cadence to true words that, once spoken, once written, can never entirely be forgotten. It is not enough to merely write, word after word, and watch them all fall flat and lay there on the page, limp and wrong. The right rhythm must be fought for and sought after and courted, that rhythm when everything seems right; brief and elusive, those moments when words are afire.

I am not writing a story; I am not writing a book. I am not, in truth, writing at all, but rather ... speaking. Narrating what I might once have freewritten, words for the sound of words, for the feel of words, slipping into the air, heard and then gone. Forgotten.

I have been speaking to my empty kitchen in a slow and deliberate voice as I wash the dishes and ladle the soup into small containers, as I pull the last cornbread from the oven and pull it from the tray. And I realize: suddenly words have texture again, and rhythm, and flow, and I hear each with a precision, a clarity that seems to have been lost, wholly absent, for weeks and months -- no, in truth, gone from me for years. Two years, more -- need I count them? And while I know that they will leave me again, the brief clarity of such composition vanishing and leaving only the weight and fog of the everyday, it seems that perhaps the poetry is out here too, elusive but present, just waiting to be spoken.


Apr. 14th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Meditation on a theme
Since they relate well, I'm combining replies. Since what I wrote is so long, I have to split it.

Can I ask what you do think in?
Of course. I usually don't mind questions (exceptions including ones that indicate lack of thought/attention, intent to offend/hurt, misrepresentation of what went before). The actual answering can be difficult, but as long as it can be deferred until such time as answers can be developed without the deferral being considered impolite, that is usually fine. I'm not sure exactly how to answer the question, so let me know if you were looking for something else.

About most things, I could be described as thinking in conceptual bundles (conceptual in the sense of being made up of thought objects which include sense impressions, thoughts, memories (which of course can involve words), feelings) that link and interrelate components and other bundles in specific ways that are often fairly non-linear (in the sense that while I know that they are linked, and what the links imply about their impact on the overall object of thought under consideration, I won't always know how, in terms of being able to explain the reasoning steps, without focusing on and unpacking the webs, Also non-linear in the sense of not being readily spatially mappable since the connections between multiple concepts include assessments of degrees of sometimes interrelated difference (e,g.: information source reliability, age of memory, avoidance level) in more than three axes, let alone one.). Which like a lot of brain work is puzzling to me because at a social interaction level, based on professional evaluations, I do a lot of information processing that, for most people, is generally done at an unconscious level, consciously, and hence much more slowly, which in broad, seems to be the reverse of how it looks to me like I do the associative processing above. I imagine that parts of my thought processes resemble the way that thinking in words can work, but... hmm let me try this: A given word has many associations and contextually sensitive connotations, A thought can take the bits of the word's associations that are particular to the situation under examination, as well as bits that are not associated with that word, and make that a manipulable concept that fits into a thought model/structure without needing to find a label that says exactly that. Most of the time, finding communicable signifiers to tag everything with is not feasible, therefore I think of my thought as not being in words. Of course, words are often objects, or parts of objects in those conceptual bundles, but usually, apart from things like memories of someone saying a phrase (usually part of something treeing off of instances in which the phrase appears), only insofar as they are related to the concepts there, as opposed to as shorthand for the associational bundles.

Which is not to say that words are only generated when I need to talk or write. I have a cliché generator with various genre and accent capabilities in my head that triggers occasionally. Mental models of what certain other people, real or fictional, might say if they were looking at whatever I happen to be looking at. The bit that thinks about what I'm experiencing in light of the prospects of blogging/talking about it later (A distinctly different process than what is at work when I'm actually in a discussion in real-time.). But those are more automatic processes rather than me thinking.

I can admire and appreciate beauty in words, but as far as their use personally, I often find them a great trial and source of frustration for my inability to accurately and precisely say what I mean and understand what other people do because of their limits as a medium of communication.