I start today’s post with a decided disadvantage, my short-term memory having decided to play an Alzheimer’s-like trick on me and “disappear” a key phrase I had planned for this post before I could write it down. But the gist of my remarks was as follows: when the light at the end of the tunnel goes out, re-kindling the spark of the torch that was there is an arduous and painful proceeding, and one that I was hoping to work through here, with my readers watching and waiting (however impatiently) for me to get to the point. And then I forgot my line.
How many times, how many times, since appearing on stage in my first student play, have I had nightmares about not having learned my lines and being on stage speechless, or nervous fantasies about having learned the lines with great effort and apparent aplomb, but forgetting them the minute I step upon stage? As you may have guessed, I’m suggesting that there is something God-given (and God-taken-away) about most inspiration: you have a window of opportunity to nail the important words, and then shadows of other phrases and sentences and bugbear-like-clichés such as “the light at the end of the tunnel” and “re-kindling the spark” come along and drown out the really innovative and perhaps for-all-time original (maybe) thought you were trying to express.
As far as I can recall, the inspired remark had something to do with finding self-direction after a long period of following in a certain pre-determined path. I was partly thinking of the long time I spent working on my doctorate, and the let-down and lull I felt after finishing/graduating, and the transition to my website and my renewed work on my novel sequence (published on this website). I comfort myself with the reflection that so great a soul as Virginia Woolf went into a depressive decline at the end of each of her works, until she took up the next one. But then I say, pragmatically to myself, “But I don’t want to end up walking into the lake with stones in my pockets, either.” So I turn again to my reading lists. It’s true, I have things to do. And the things are activities that I have elected on my own to do, with no one putting me up to them or prompting me. But lately, the traditionally acclaimed “spark” has died out a little, and I have felt slow and sluggish, and have blamed it on the weather, on overeating a summertime holiday diet, on not hearing from enough of you (and yes, there is that thrill of communication which has lately been attenuated or missing), on the summer being almost over, on the fact that I’m a year older (why should this matter any more this year than last?–it’s only one more year); in fact I have become a veritable deep resounding well of complaints and caveats, giving forth with my problems every time someone drops a penny in for luck. Can’t you just hear the echo?
And lo! At least one part of the mysterious meditation comes back: the remark was one about “finding inner resourcefulness.” My inner resourcefulness is what I am in search of, and what I feel is lacking at the moment. For, it’s not merely a matter of self-direction, one has to be directed from some initial glowing hot coal-bed of creativity to one’s lava-like course down the mountainside called “the path of communication” to where others wait at the end of the course of the rich ash-bed and fertile soil (sorry about this really quite imperfect metaphor–it’s the best I could do with such an impeded “flow” of inspired thought).
“Inner resourcefulness” is the constant mystery, the be-all and end-all of writing and creativity in general, whose inner enemy is the famous “writer’s block” for writers and poets, whatever it may be for musicians, sculptors, and others of the artistic ilk. How does one court one’s muse, if we should call it that, how appeal to that oracle to get it to trundle forth some truth, some gifted thought, something we can share with our audience, colleagues, and cohorts? It puts one on the spot, as if one were Cordelia, one of King Lear’s daughters, being asked “[W]hat can you say to draw/A third more opulent than your sisters?” Duh. Dunno. But Cordelia put it better, with the help of Shakespeare, paradoxically doing what she claims in the same words she cannot do, though Lear hears the paradox in simple denial terms, in terms of refusal to cooperate: Cordelia says, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth.”
So, try as I might to “heave my heart into my mouth,” there are some things that remain inarticulate and inexplicable, such as my tendency since about the winter to post less frequently. Of course, I can give you an excuse, a rationale, an explanation (not quite the same things as reasons, real reasons having a bit more muscle and “bite” to them): I’ve gone through already a lot of the books I was interested in posting about, and I’m slowed down because I need to read more books to get them under my belt and comment on them. But this is a “shadow-boxing” sort of reason, because the books I’ve read in my life are innumerable to my own memory, and the ones I could still say something intelligent about are, one trusts, quite a few, had I enthusiasm. And now we get to the point, perhaps: I’ve lost some enthusiasm for attempting to craft the well-written literary article, and it’s not because it’s not great fun, or because I don’t think it worthwhile. It’s because, perhaps, other things in life which I can’t express are beginning to take their toll on my spirit; my daily life is dragging me down.
Yet, just as I express this quibble (and it’s larger than a “quibble,” but I’m trying the rhetorical move of understatement to cut it to size), I feel a certain free flow in my heart, and a desire to say something else: perhaps the answer is that I have expressed my feeling now, and can go on from there. Perhaps (following advice I’ve heard from others) the answer is not merely to express the feeling, then, but to insist with myself that I go ahead and post on something more frequently than I have been, even if it’s only an “other than literary days” post like today’s, when I would rather be writing about literature. Just to keep my hand in.
The downside of this plan? Why, that you, my loyal readers, may after a while decide that I’m not much fun anymore, and may decide to stop following my site “if all she’s going to do is babble about something other than books.” For, the undeclared purpose of my site is to write books, to publish my books, and most often predominantly to feature the poems, stories, and books of other writers to whom I feel I owe literary debts. Yet, I ask myself, is not even such a humble entity as this very self-focused and possibly therefore boring post a type of literary endeavor? Isn’t reaching out to you and to the great ether beyond us all a sort of creative event? I do hope you’ll think so, because I have decided to try to post on some topic or other more frequently, though I still hope my posts will feature my thoughts and inspirations more often than not in terms of how they are demonstrated in books and other works of literary merit or concern. But I can’t promise not to “babble” now and then–I’ve accepted the minute glow at the end of the tunnel as the faith of a tiny spark, and am willing to try this way to re-kindle it: I hope you’ll make the trip with me, commenting or not, as you see fit, but at least reading. Who knows, maybe I’ll hit upon something that helps you find your own feet again when you’ve lost your balance temporarily: and what more can any of us ask of literature or writing endeavors than that they restore to us some of what we lose through the vicissitudes of life? Such grand aspirations! But we all need some large hopes to carry us through the day. Join me, won’t you? and if you can use my odd brand of curative powers, so much the better!
6 responses to “If the light at the end of the tunnel goes out, or upon re-kindling the spark….”
Life does find ways to distract us from our literary endeavours, be it things to do or even a general disheartening of one’s motivation to scribble the pen or tap the keys.
Honing your craft involves a fair degree of introspection, as well as observation of the world around you. A self-focused post may highlight a thought that has crossed our own minds, yet not voiced for whatever reason.
Find your balance, Doc. If it involves less frequent posts, so be it. More frequent but less lengthy posts, so be it. Whichever course you decide, we;ll keep dropping by for a read =)
Thanks for your loyal following, DJ. It really helps to hear from the people around me on the ‘net, particularly those whom I exchange regular comments with. And I am hoping for more frequent posts. As it so happens, after I put up this post this morning, someone contacted me with a request for a post, and though I have never in my memory answered a special request before, I did so in a later post this evening. And I hope that you don’t find it too long (I note you suggest that maybe the answer to my compositional difficulties is frequent but shorter posts), but when I thought of a sincere answer to her request, it turned out to be quite long, probably one of the longest I’ve written. So I suppose it’s like what some people call the Good Book says: “Cast your bread upon the waters.” I was rewarded by at least having lots to say to and for her, though I’m not sure yet how my second post will be received. But sometimes, self-expression, like virtue, at least feels like its own reward, because one can breathe freely again. Thanks for your thoughtful response, it’s always appreciated.
Oh, my. I fear it will do little good to say that all (let me repeat – ALL) writers feel this same way either some of the time…or most of the time! I enjoy your writing. You are one of a small handful of blogs I follow, because, quite frankly, they are very time consuming and distracting. Why? Because I love to read them and find that when I tire of my own writing, or my world, I escape into theirs. Great, once in awhile, but a steady diet would keep me from pressing matters and casting my own bread, as it were. I agree that shorter posts might entice others and I know I would enjoy them even more because I would not feel so guilty taking the time to read them! Not your problem, mine. Just a thought from someone who appreciates the daily struggle.
Kathy, you are one of those people whose best I can never quite get a secure handle on, because every time you post or comment, it is top drawer quality. You get better and better! So it’s always reassuring to know, even though I’ve heard it before, that others have the save compositional difficulties I have. It did surprise me in response to this post to be requested as an “agony aunt,” and I don’t think I’ll ever equal Dear Abby or Ann Landers, but it did give me something else to do, and as you no doubt have also heard in the mouths of the old folk, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” so it kept me from being idle. Instead, I had to think my way through someone else’s problems that aren’t that far from my own, which was perplexing and hard, but not without reward. I’ll think about the shorter post question–the usual problem is, with literature you need to write at least a sound page of thought to deal with it even remotely adequately, and some of my best-received posts (no doubt flattering my vanity!) have been the longer ones. I guess the guilt feeling at not posting on my old frequent schedule is what is on my mind most; I’ll have to watch my stats for a while to see if the numbers pick back up (it is a question of having lost a few readers, not my regulars, but all those other mysterious folks out there who read but don’t subscribe or comment). Thanks for your good wishes, as always, thanks for patience with this long response, and “best” right back at ya!
Loved this, and wrote a fair reply, and WordPress refused to publish it! More outfall from going self hosted. But basically what I said is that this is worth of Montaigne. And that certain books, often how-to inspire me, most recently Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces.
Dear Richard, Thanks so much for your kind praise! You are always generous in estimating my literary capabilities (you should know that WordPress.com is having a few problems right now, so sometimes trying a second time to post the same comment works–there are discussions of this on the forum, notably under an initial sticky post about being marked as spam. I don’t know if that’s your problem, but have a look. So far, you’ve been coming through loud and clear, and this is the first unusual post i’ve had from you. Thanks also for the recommendation to the book–i’ll have to give it a look-see some time.