October 16, 2013

Writing as Compassionate Action.

“It’s quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment right at the start where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it.”

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

I believe the same perspective may hold true in the act of writing.  It is quite an undertaking to curve words with blue ink that will dry into permanence on the page.

Sometimes, we must be generous with our words, and then energetic in our editing, and sometimes blind in our giving, otherwise we would not have the strength to redirect others’ perceptions about writers.

A few days ago at the playground, I spoke with a new dad about professions. I said that I am a writer and poet.

Of course, he asked what kind of writing.

I explained that I am working on my second chapbook of poetry. I have read poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC, as well as smaller venues. I wrote a memoir and process paper for my graduate thesis. Yet I prefer to write novels, I replied with a content smile, finally feeling confident about my career choice.

He exclaimed, “Isn’t that maddening!”

I laughed, and then sighed, ready with my answer.

“No way,” I grinned, shaking my head.  “I find writing novels to be intoxicating.”

I did not wait for his interruption, even though his lips were parted ready to give a witty reply.

“It’s like playing chess or one of those complicated puzzles with the metals rings twisted within the rings. You know, it’s a challenge. You have to see the entirety of a story, yet still focus on the small. What’s maddening is finding a publisher!” I laughed.

Of course, he countered my perspective with a winded description about Paul Theroux.

I faded out, nodding at the appropriate pauses in his discussion, while thinking about how writing takes a lot of unpaid and unacknowledged time spent editing, and then editing some more.

I will carry a sentence around, reworking the words in my mind until it forms, finally. The sentence arrives just as I am in middle of ordinary acts like chopping garlic for soup. I drop my knife, grab my pen and scribble the words onto paper, and then I smell that bitter sweetness of onions burning. Of course, my pen stinks like garlic for the next day or so, yet it is not maddening, just real.

If writers are seen as wild beings living in a state of madness, then why do readers crave fiction?

Actually, we love fiction.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sold over 6.6 million copies; obviously, we love the products that come from the “craziness” of creativity, but here is a tip for readers: look at writing as compassionate action, please do not call it maddening.

Because it is not crazy to write; and certainly, it is an undertaking because writers hold our courage in a flame that burns the ordinary into the felt experience, so readers may enjoy the passion, pain and intensity of being without having our eyes swell and burn from the smoke of real fires.

Perhaps, we may even encourage some readers to take that leap, and write their own stories.

“If you think about it you don’t do it,” Sartre wrote about love, but his words hold truth here, too: writing is a “jump across the abyss,” an exhilarating experience, as it may leave us feeling breathless and alive when our feet land on the  rocks on the other side.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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