On Writing

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Course Ideas / Creative / Fiction

I could suggest I’m grappling with writing—with the idea of writing, perhaps, and how the idea crumbles when I sit down to write; how I pan in the dust for gold and will myself to proceed though a dense and peculiar metal, of itself, is meaningless; how I come up dry and uncertain, but then find a sparkle or two in the half-light just as I turn away, and suddenly am renewed—but the real grappling is with the need to be measurable. The real grappling is with the notion that I might say, I love this, and in loving it and acting upon that love, create a fuller version of myself, or that in my failure to do so, I might fail not only some selfish dream to which I feel prey, but the pure dream on which my life was founded.

We worry we will not become who we have always been.

Of course ultimately it is none of these things, really. And yet it is all of them. It is whatever it takes to be reduced to an instant of creative complicity with all that exists, so that this becomes my sole purpose for being. There is a moment, one step beyond our base desire, when the sorcery actually works and we are entangled with new life—it is with us and in us even as it rises onto its own shaky legs to become a fresh and growing thing, a living thing quivering with potential we cannot explain.

I have been reading, in fits and starts, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, and I very much enjoyed the passage in which he attempts to describe the motive in the art: the need to express some truth of our lives that can only be expressed in the way a narrative takes shape. This “truth” cannot be reduced to some principle of morality or theme. It can only be stirred up and aroused, blown into the air through the sleight of hand that we call writing—just as our own lives I think, stand for something that can never quite be reduced to labels and boxes.

We each stand for such a subtle truth that emerges in the fullness of our living, in the way we yearn and stumble through time and circumstance; in the way we call out, seek to know and be known; in the way we attempt to take the measure of ourselves and one another—though how tragically pointless is this pursuit of taking measure?

In college when I signed-up for a fiction writing class as a senior elective instead of another engineering or mathematics course, I remember wondering at one point: if it is true that we can shake off the chains of concept and ego, what stories would there be? What would be the point of this art if suffering were no more? How could you have plot without the conflict—character without man or woman against the world, against one another, against what has befallen them?

I still wonder sometimes, but of course it is a silly question. It is a bit like asking whether or not life would still be valuable were we to experience its beauty and lasting perfection in a deeper way. Surely this is not an idle pursuit! I think the fact would remain: art in all its forms, including life itself, would exist to tell a truth that cannot be reduced to a more primitive form. This is why there is so little to be found in conforming to particular definitions or concepts of success in this life: to live for someone else is to believe the content of one’s own unique revelations, when unearthed through the art of living—or writing, or building, or studying, or sailing, or experimenting—will not be enough.

This of course is the beginning and ending of all our difficulty.

My fiction work to date is deficient in various and measurable ways; of this I have no doubt. I am like the violin student producing screeches a half-step out of key; but I do think there have been truths unearthed, in the middle of it somehow, that cannot be reduced. And I think that as I learn to trust them more, and to contemplate less their relative worthiness, one day I will find myself bewildered and standing in the presence of new life. The attempt is helping me to overcome these final and beguiling expectations for myself, to admit I don’t know what I am doing even if it produces moments of soul-cradling sweetness.

It seems a solitary pursuit, but the sensations of doubt lead me back to the beginning, and to the realization that we are all related—we are all the same in our need to know and be known, to share in moments of intimacy and grace, to have a feeling that is ratified or an insight that inspires, to birth in our very lives a truth we could not have known otherwise. Writing is far too feeble and fleeting a pastime to carry the weight of a life, but left alone, freed of idols and fixations, it may perhaps surprise us.

Just as we may surprise ourselves to realize that, in all our driven fury, we have always been right here: in the room, in the moment, in the time, where new life emerges.

27 Comments

  1. We worry we will not become who we have always been…. wow! That’s so thought provoking Michael.. and if that burden is carried by my writing, it is no wonder I know it is missing something. Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Rajani, so nice to hear from you! Hope all is well.

      I like the way you put this because when I feel in the grip of this particular feeling, it does feel like a burden. I question too much and lose touch with my creative instincts… until I take all my thoughts, roll them into a ball, and start with a fresh mind!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael,
    I too worry about not becoming what I have always been, uncovering the chasm between potential and mastery, past and future, ideas and manifestation. Writing is a lonely but compelling pursuit. Most of us who write, must write, in spite of the doubt, suffering, anguish, and edits! I appreciate hearing about your process and offer support and “progress” whatever that means to you.

    blessings, Linda

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much for your support, Linda. It is ultimately a lovely process, though it has its up’s and down’s. But really, all else aside, it puts certain challenges of being at the forefront where they may be dissolved through creative surrender, which when it happens, is a beautiful thing!

      Blessings to you also…
      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now you see, my friend, I didn’t really try to understand what you’re saying here. Is that an insult? No, it’s a compliment. What you’ve done — or was it what my brain did as a result of what you’ve done? — was to compose, not an essay, not a stream of ideas for consideration (though some will do that, doubtless), no, what you’ve done is to make music from words.

    As likely you’re aware, certain great spiritual teachers — The Venerable Achan Mun was one — have admonished audiences of adepts not to listen to their dhamma talks in bids to understand, rather to simply experience the whole of what is present during the given talk. Mun would discourse for hours on end, and yet without wanting the adepts present to reconceptualise his words in their heads. I think J. Krishnamurti said that thoughts die as soon as we verbalise them, which is true — the words are not the thought from whence they issue; they’re a reflection of the thought, a reimaging, a reverberant echoing, but not ever the thought itself. And then the echo, image, the reflection, itself needs reimaging. So the source becomes at least two stages removed from what is perceived in the decoding intellect. And yet it remains the source.

    Everything is always new.

    But the words themselves can be like music, like liturgical music perhaps, if listened to in the right spirit. And you’ve annotated this composition very beautifully — a perfect little concerto. I agree with you in one sense, but not the accepted sense. I agree with you in the sense that I agree with Gould’s ’55 recording of The Goldberg Variations, and I’ve no idea what they mean either. Who cares?

    With Mettā, Hariod.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear Hariod,

      I read your words and feel a deep sense of gratitude, for you have picked up on the very sense I had in writing this. Truth be told I sat down and wrote this in a single draft, with maybe one or two edits at the end. I rarely achieve that flow in my fiction writing; when I do it usually is the propellant that reveals a new insight into what my subconscious is saying and then I can rework it more constructively. But this was like a prayer from start to finish–prayer being defined as “recalling the memory of love…”

      I’m very grateful for your sharing here my friend, and the kindredness I feel brought into being by being known so.

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Michael,

    An interesting musing, thank you.

    Perhaps it is because the heart of the ‘artist’ knows he will always be the apprentice that he never ceases his relentless desire to become the master?

    Namaste

    DN – 23/02/2017

    Liked by 4 people

    • Many thanks, Dewin. Yes I think there is something to this idea of continually recognizing room to “grow into” something. In moments of creative success I feel the means and ends are joined, as it is the creative act that gives the growth, and it is the growth that propels the next creative act, and so long as we don’t get too worried about where we’re going, it seems an endless joy…

      Peace
      Michael

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      • Hey Michael,

        Thank you

        In stillness there is dynamism, in dynamism there is stillness. Ying romances Yang in a Love eternally flourishing new life.

        Writers, artists, poets are always becoming, they have never always been.

        Namaste

        DN – 26/02/2017

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Dewin,

          I agree. When I say we’re afraid we’ll not become who we’ve always been, it is in reference to the idea in A Course of Love that we are all already who we are. There is nothing we could do that would make us more of who we are, or complete us, or make us better or worthy or perfected or anything like that. But in these creative processes we are always discovering what this means, and coming to new realization of who we are, and so in a sense, we’re discovering who we’ve always been…

          Thank you for your thoughts, Dewin!
          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hey Michael,

            Excellent. Turning to the Dragon….

            “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.’

            ‘Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.’

            ‘Now if you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.’ (Bruce Lee, Long Street, 1971)

            Namaste

            DN – 26/02/2017

            Like

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  6. I believe there will always be deficiencies because we are human. Yet you continue on for those “truths unearthed, in the middle of it somehow (and beyond) that cannot be reduced.” You offer many truths that sing and lift us up and for which I am grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, JoAnna. It is truly a joy to share back and forth. I agree with your first statement but I would only modify it a little to say that our notions of perfection are often illusory, and that our expressions of Love are perfect just as they are, amidst all our foibles and difficulties and quirks of personality. It is the human and the divine intermingling that is the perfection…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Thank you, David… Such a perfect prayer of response, my friend. I have tasted a few tart fruits due to lack of patience for the ripening, but you know, a good grower learns to work with the living beings in his care… and adjusts for the next season.

      Peace
      Michael

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  7. I always enjoy your writings Michael and especially love the visualization of panning for gold or better and upon giving up, realizing what we had been seeking was sitting right there patiently waiting, like a young dog, eager and tail wagging when we find that perfect place in the yard to roll around after minutes of fruitless searching, we take pleasure just in doing what it is we enjoy most of all, simply being and realizing that that’s all there is. When we let go of the search, the blinders pop off like a thousand butterflies taking flight and we stand in awe of what we see around us. I know, I’m rambling…I’m good that way. Write on young Jedi master and soar ❤ Hi Hafiz too ❤ I know he's in there prodding you with a three tined fork with laughter on his breath ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kim. Your description is lovely and apropos. The challenge I have specifically with fiction right now is that the moments of rolling around in the dirt, exciting though they are, contain subtle problems at least in terms of the actual art and practice of fiction. But at the same time, they are also the moments that bring me back to the page! So in the end I think it is the pure love that compels the practice that will ultimately elevate the work to expanded levels…

      Thank you for your support and sharing your kind thoughts, Kim. Always, always appreciated!

      And yes, Hafiz is working his magic!
      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Michael, I kept getting draw towards the lines “We worry we will not become who we have always been.” “It is in us even with us.” & “we may surprise ourselves to realize that, in all our driven fury, we have always been right here.”
    For me, you tapped into a key element of art and in particular the letters. I remember being taught the basic themes of man against himself, man against man and man against the environment.
    It’s as if we had to strive to create them, magnify them, mimic them…that can be a tall order to fill.
    I think the act of writing is discovering that all of those exist within us, and our expressions are a pile of lego blocks that we can assemble as we see fit, picking the pieces we like, the colours we admire, the curious looking ones – and like the novice playing the violin, the struggle may be the learning, the what do we see in all of this, and maybe their are awkward sounds in the process, but I think ultimately as we put ourselves out there, as we take things aparts and as we put them together, or not, however we do that, whatever the process, there is indeed soul-cradling sweetness.
    Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Harlon. My apologies for the delay here. I’ve not been on-line too much for a while. But I appreciate very much your sharing here and remember learning about those three basic plot themes too! 🙂 And yes, I think we sift through the pieces within us–polishing and arranging them, and building on them–until a sweetness emerges. It is quite a process!

      Peace to you also,
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • No need to apologize Michael. I think I am feeling the symptoms of being on-line too much so I may hideout for a while. Hope you are enjoying peaceful times and the feeling of love. Peace, Harlon

        Liked by 1 person

  9. And just like that you can hit the ‘Mark’ and strike a chord within my soul, Michael! I will have to go back and read this again…and again…and I am responding before I read the comments…but I am sure I will need to respond again after that!

    ‘ Surely this is not an idle pursuit! I think the fact would remain: art in all its forms, including life itself, would exist to tell a truth that cannot be reduced to a more primitive form. This is why there is so little to be found in conforming to particular definitions or concepts of success in this life: to live for someone else is to believe the content of one’s own unique revelations, when unearthed through the art of living—or writing, or building, or studying, or sailing, or experimenting—will not be enough.’ Just…Ahhhhhhh! on this!

    I hope that you are well, my friend. I can only imagine the weather (snow) you have had to contend with (don’t miss it at all!) I know your writing and it speaks to me always. I also know that we all tend to be a little ‘judgmental’ on our own writing, so I am here to tell you that what comes out of your mind, heart, soul, is incredibly important, not only to me but to MANY!!

    Much love to you and yours. I truly hope that life is showing you rainbows!! ❤

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    • Thank you, Lorrie!

      I’m doing well–had been spending less time on-line and working on some writing when I went down with the flu, and am now mostly recovered. But I haven’t been on-line all that much in the past three to four weeks between one and the other. Thank you for your kind words, and one of the joys of sharing the writing that I have to date, are the responses like yours, where we discover what we have to share is helpful or inspiring or simply enjoyed. It is like completing the circuit or something, as the need to express is greeted with the need to witness. This is the sacred human art–our collective art, in all its forms.

      Wishing you well, my friend. The winter hasn’t been too bad, but we did lose power for about 24-hrs and get a blizzard while I was in the midst of the flu. Other than that, however, I have no complaints about this winter! I’m loving seeing the longer days, and having light to enjoy after work again…

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh…the flu can be so draining, Michael! I am sending beautiful white healing light to replenish your energy which I am sure was impacted.
        I happen to be in the north as I write this, and I can not lie…I can’t wait to get back where it is warm and life surrounds me in technicolor!! It is so GRAY up here…and cold…and raining…icky! 😉
        I send lots of love back to you and hope that your creative powers are in full force!

        Liked by 1 person

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