Saturday, September 15, 2012


I used to say it was as though I passed my hand over the top of my head and felt a little nub of yarn sticking out -- then I would pull on the yarn until I had a whole ball of it wound out and then I would begin to knit.  Other times it’s like one of those question-answering black balls where words appear in a little window.  Then you reflect on what that cryptic answer means.

Or with a different kind of writing, it’s like a crossword puzzle.  Searching for a word or concept that fits into a pre-existent pattern of ideas.  When you look at a sentence, you see a diagram, the kind that so many people hate when they study grammar in high school.  That’s because they never USE the information they have.  They never get to the kind of sentence writing that is based on structure, so that you can reduce a participle to an adverb or expand an appositive into a whole separate sentence.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I must be talking about you.

For years everyone fussed about being creative.  Everything was about “creative” and how to be like that.  It had to be “original” -- never done before -- as though that were possible.  It was pretty much connected to emotion and narcissism.  Until it became -- what else? -- “a musical genre/scene that has almost 1000 definitions” in the Urban Dictionary, “most of which are making fun of it.”   In short, the great human phenomena reduced to teen angst.

Writing, like any other art or enterprise, is largely a matter of managing one’s inner brain function, the constantly shifting interconnectivity that works to put you into the right state.  Creativity is a brain state.  A brain state is brought about by the totality of the body -- its tension, its arousal, its portal sensations, its point on the process of sorting and stabilitizng memory -- and the various levels of brain from brain stem to the cerebrum, esp. the part just behind fhe forehead.  Writing is a sum of parts and each part deserves attention.  When one is writing, the whole self is writing.  

Sometimes it’s like one of those shoe holders that hangs over a door:  you put things in the pockets (paragraphs), rearrange them so they’re in a sensible order, and hope you don’t discover later that you forgot to put in your fav socks.  Sometimes you can tolerate left over pockets but not a shortage.  Other times writing is like wrestling with a tentacled monster that can reach into your chest and tear out your heart.  You get to the end bloody and weeping.  Once in a long while it’s like making love:  a little tickle here, a trace of anatomy there, tenderness and pressure and knowing the effect until . . .

But “go to writing” is a little like “go to sleep.”  You can only command yourself to do it up to a point.  The best help is habit: if you always write in the same time and place, that’s like always going to sleep in the same time and place. Habit is a bookmark.  Your body remembers.  Sometimes a certain bit of music.  Sometimes a bit of reading.  Some writers will retype the last paragraph of the previous writing -- assuming they are continuing the same piece.  

There are times when everything is so out of kilter that one must go walk.  Awareness of one’s body is important, awareness of one’s state of mind, and yet when actively writing, all that goes unconscious.  It’s not the pen -- it’s the blood-ink, if that makes any sense.  Brain waves are real and getting them to loop and curlicue into words is a form of flow, that state when your skills match your goals -- if you stretch.

There’s a second state after the “creativity/emotion/narcissism” stuff that whips out a tape measure, a level, a saw and hammer.  A grammar hammer.  My worst fault is wrongsideout sentences.  I put the information the reader needs at the second, last, part of the sentence instead of the beginning.    And then a third level is clarity about what one is building: what is the purpose of this chair?  Who will sit here and why?  A person can be wonderfully sensitive, full of awareness and capable of distinguishing the smallest detail, and yet never bother to make more than a feather pillow -- soft minutia, smushed together.

In the end writing is the ability to produce pattern that interacts with the consumers of pattern, all in the context of the cosmic patterns.  How’s that for pretentious?  I like it.

I’m not at all sure that the choice of subject has much to do with the quality of the writing.  Is there something that is not worth writing about?  One of my favorite subjects is grass -- banal, already done, etc.  A joke.  But it was a good excuse for researching sweetgrass on the internet and the information I discovered has been useful ever since.  I think about sweetgrass quite a bit and so do a lot of others because it has so much metaphorical value and because it’s so sensory.  A key.  All the senses are keys.

But let’s go back to that little nub of something sticking out of the top of my head: an issue that itches for reflection.  Searching for a definition, reflecting,  locating resources, searching my past for relevant memories, looking at it one way, then reversing, then taking a 45 degree angle off to the side and looking again.  I don’t really know what I think until I’ve taken these steps that amount to writing.  Writing without thinking is just wandering, free-associating, but some people have such a strong subconscious arrow of intention that it’s writing anyway. That’s preparation, often valuable, but it’s not final product.  What’s final in an art form?  Why should it be valued?

There’s always the internal dialogue and the external multilogue.  Now we’re talking a different kind of party ball -- the mirror ball.  Like everything else it’s process, not product.  I just like the way writing feels; the same as dancing or playing music, something is running through my body and mind as though it were satin ribbons.  With an occaional knot or button.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

My best writing happens at white heat. The words flow out as fast as they form in my mind, and a poem or essay emerges that usually needs little revision. Emily Dickinson talked about the same thing, and it's from her I get the phrase writing at white heat. I don't know it's happening till I'm partway into it,at which point my job is to just drop everything else and go with the flow. I will ignore the phonend everything. Eventually there is an ending, and the pressure ebbs, and it's over. The intellect has almost nothing to do with this, xcept that everything else it's on fire. Several reades have said that these are my most interesting, original essays. They do break a lot of writerly rules, though, including the grammar rules. But they seem to connect to reades nonetheless, on several levels. Most of my artistic discipline consists of being ready for white heat to happen, and to get down whatever comes forward to be made. I agree that it's a state of mind, a state of being. I find that as with most things creative work, the more you do it, the more you CAN do it.