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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 03:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Meditation on a theme
I think in words. I practically dream in words. the strongest part of Karina's post for me, was: the part that sees the movement of water across a flooded lawn and tries to name its shape, because I do this constantly.

I'm curious how long you remember doing this for and whether you can link it to specific behavioural feedback training loops. Looks for words, writes them down, gets better at looking for words etc... I know that the way I think now has significant differences compared to how I thought when I was say six years old, though I think that I can remember beginning to have similar difficulties around thoughts and communication by the time I was in third grade. Certainly by age eleven when I was reading books and watching television, fictional (Brave New World) and not (TLC pre reality TV and <3 PBS, books from parenting to philosophy with some science thrown in.), which talked about the ways that language and words made some thoughts unthinkable/affected development, with their implicit and explicit assumptions and detailed descriptions of how the writers/researchers thought everyone's thought processes worked and developed, I was going "Well that's clearly not right." and "unfounded assumption.". I mean it was interesting, but I couldn't help thinking that these people must have had very different memories of being, say ten, than I did.

Words are metaphor, yes.

I'm having difficulty narrowing down to which way(s) this is meant to be read in this context. Please explain?

I have an enormously good memory for the spoken word and for voices, and if I need to fix something in mind, I will often say it out loud.

I will do that too, though it isn't hugely reliable for me. In conversation, my memory is getting flakier. I envy you yours. I used to be able to easily replay significant parts of dialogue - cadence, tone and all - if I was party to the discussion and the subject had come up later. If the conversation was peripheral to my attention, I could backtrack perhaps a few sentences into the immediate past if something had twigged. That faculty was far less capable of reproducing speech if it was not in a familiar language. Now it comes and goes. Mind you, I was never at my mother's teen level. Back then she had a near perfect memory for word based content whether on a page or verbally, whether she was paying attention or not. As in, able to absorb a lecture sitting in class, while reading a book on an unrelated subject, to the point of being able to answer questions requiring synthesis of information from different points in the lecture as well as earlier ones.

Common enough that I spent a good few hours in one of my university classes discussing the way that our knowledge and recollection of our own thoughts and experience is changed by how we think and speak about them. We change our memories in the telling of stories.

That sounds like a class I might have liked to attend. What sort of course was it? I've come at the theory side of it (as opposed to the feeling it happen side) from several different directions: a course in writing and activism, a sociology/anthropology one (side note: taught by the only faculty member at York cross-listed in Music and Sociology - John Gittens, a terrific professor in jazz and societal development, and a really interesting person to chat with. ), and in a workshop at Good For Her on the brain and sex run by a psychotherapist with a neuroscience background (Marta Helliesen) who does a fair bit of trauma and abuse related counselling. That said, the thing that I was un-clearly referring to as being uncommon was the fear of loss of self attendant on the awareness of the above phenomenon being strong enough to make me reluctant to verbalise thoughts.

Apr. 18th, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
Re: Meditation on a theme
Words are metaphor, yes.

I'm having difficulty narrowing down to which way(s) this is meant to be read in this context. Please explain?

What I do, when I see something that causes me to stop and come up with words to describe it, is largely metaphor. I am not trying to scientifically or precisely describe what I see; I'm trying to come up with words that encapsulate what I feel at that time. The words wouldn't make useful non-fiction because they're attempting to evoke something I've experienced, rather than describe the actual thing I see.

So... if I went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, and I wrote about it, it's highly likely that what I write would make sense only to people who have already seen it, or have seen something that has moved them in a similar way; they won't be able to glean the significance of the architecture or the history or anything else from my words.

Much of the sense of naming the shape of what I see (which is what ksumnersmith mentions the loss of in her opening paragraph, is exactly that; it's metaphor. I would say, by the way, that it's not different from some of your modeling because the metaphor is evocative, and anything it evokes (in me) is tied to my own experiences and my own way of looking at and understanding the world.