November 26, 2007

On Writing

The glorious steel trusses throw pale pastel shadows on the ceiling from the cool up-lighting of the florescent fixtures. The windows are dark mirrors, bouncing both light and shadow and revealing as much as they conceal. The hum is steady, of the lights, the computers, the ventilation system, with only the occasional footsteps to penetrate it.

Sometimes I don’t know what to write, so I just write. I describe the world around me – the rain, the wind, the light, and from there I inexorably find myself circling back around. Sometimes I do actually have a point, a purpose, a subject, but more often than not I merely have a question or a trouble or a random thought. I write quickly, with little pausing, following my mindstream wherever it leads me.

Usually, I circle and ponder, and sooner or later I discover what I was looking for. Generally it is not an answer, but it could be called a conclusion. More often it is a new question, a new direction, a new thought, something to be pondered some other time. Sometimes it is just an end. I become tired of writing, bored with feeling sorry for myself, uninterested in my own false eloquence, or sometimes just a little too punchy to make much sense.

I generally publish what I write. I can count on one finger the number of posts I have deleted without publishing. I might give it one quick read through to check the spelling and the grammar, and often I don’t do a very good job at that. Then up it goes, into the cyberstorm of the internet, before doubt can get the better of me.

I re-read my posts almost as often as I post, usually getting a flavor of my mindset from the past week or so. Sometimes I go back farther, delving into memory, and sometimes I just read the last line, looking for a quick reminder.

My meditation instructor once told me that though the contemplative arts are numerous, encompassing painting, film, photography, archery, horsemanship, flower arranging, and tea ceremony, there is no “contemplative journaling.” It helps us buy into our own storyline. It strengthens our ego, gives us too strong a sense of “I” and “me.” Ever since I have been on guard against such a possibility, watching my mind, watching my writing as the quick and chaotic thoughts solidify onto paper.

Either my ego is very, very sneaky (which it is, to be sure) or I approach journaling from a very different vantage point. There is something of a desire for attention in it, that is undeniable, otherwise I would not publish what I write. Perhaps I would not even keep it, or ever reread it either. Yet mostly I write for the same reason I think, to figure things out. And I write to keep some record of my own folly, some proof that “I” am not, in fact, “me.” Besides, when I’m feeling bummed I’m often good for a laugh.

You see, I grew up in a household of bibliophiles (book-lovers). I started on Nancy Drew and the Black Stallion. When I was thirteen my mother handed me Anne McCaffrey and six months later my Dad handed me Tolkien. Due to the nature of my tastes (science fiction and fantasy with a few trashy romances thrown in during my teen years) I have a very healthy appreciation for the nature of fiction. Just because it was written did not mean it was real. On the contrary, the written word was subject to interpretation, thus was in many ways less real than almost any other medium, and certainly less so than direct experience. As my faith in the Christian church began to wane, those sentiments began to include other books, including The Book.

I allow my thoughts to solidify on paper (or the computer version) and I see them for what they are, just thoughts. Constantly shifting and changing, incorporeal and insubstantial. I think writing helps me take myself less seriously, not more.

So my thoughts have circled round at last, even here, sitting in the library, with the glorious steel beams and the soaring ceiling and the steady hum. Surrounded by books, I wrote about writing and sure enough I found the end of it. Like the wheel of samsara, it is always thus, until it isn’t anymore.

And just because I wrote it down, doesn’t make it true.

1 comment:

greenfrog said...

Thanks for posting this, Monica. It brings into daylight something about writing and journaling that has been lurking in the back of my head for some time. In many situations, it does seem to simply reinforce our notions of ourselves.

I'm reminded of a scene near the end of Thomas Hardy's novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, where the protagonist has seen fall to ruin just about everything he had made in his life. At that point, he writes a suicide note that is something to the effect of "Forget everything about me. Even my name." But then, at the bottom of the note, he signs his name, "Michael Henchard."

Egos can be sneaky.