The days when I write something good are the days I have something to say. The days when I write something bad are usually the days I have anything to say. The days I have nothing to say, I write nothing.
That phrase, “something to say,” seems wholly inadequate. It’s not that I want to speak in order to be heard so much as to write so that I myself might understand what it is I’m thinking about. Language is a vehicle. I’m getting in the car not because I want to go the grocery store, but because I want to have coffee in the morning. I write less to be read and more to manifest thought by “saying it aloud,” as we council young children to do when learning their letters.
Today, I thought to say “The world does not exist. I do not exist. You do not exist.” The world, I, and you are, after all, just words. They reflect concepts in my mind that likely do not greatly resemble the things they are supposed to signify. “The world” as I conceive it, is not the world as it exists. Nor am I; nor are you. Yet for all of that, I am writing about the fallibility of language using language. I cannot do otherwise.
I once came across a quote by Cyril Connolly: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.” (The New Statesman, 1933.)
It made me smile and I wondered, “What if I have no self? Then who do I write for?”
I understand Connolly’s meaning, but Buddhist irony compels the question. Mostly, I write for myself (certainly not the public, if the statistics of my blog are any indication). Yet I also write to escape myself and I write to define myself, both troublesome tendencies. To escape myself I work on any one of my half-dozen unfinished novels and occasionally law down the framework for a new one. To define myself is much simpler. For that, all I need to is write and instantaneously I am transformed. Voila, a writer!
Ah, just what I needed, another definition to cling to. And I do. Oh, how I do!
You see, the title of my chosen profession is proscribed. I cannot be an 'architect' of my own accord. It is a title that must be bestowed upon me by others who have judged my fitness to bear it through the creation of numerous flaming hoops and my willingness to play the toy poodle for their (surely not my own and rarely the public’s) benefit. The same holds true for 'professor' and, to a lesser extent, 'planner.' But as a 'writer' I can define myself in a way that requires no one else’s good graces. I have confirmed my existence independently. I am a writer, therefore I exist!
Now that I have defined myself this way, I constantly seek to reinforce that definition. I need to write and I need something about which to write. I am always on the lookout for something to say and always on guard against saying just anything for the sake of saying something. My facility with language is both my vehicle to understand the world and my great hindrance.
There was a poster hung in the shop when I worked at the mountain center. “You will never be able to reach a non-conceptual state by blocking conceptual thoughts. Take these very thoughts themselves as your object and focus right on them. Conceptual thoughts dissolve by themselves. When they clear away, a non-conceptual state will dawn.” (Wang-ch’ug dor-je, the 16th Karmapa.) I will never reach this state by writing about it, but I will continue to write.
Language is a tool, and for the social animal that we are, a necessity. The Buddha did not teach through silence. However, language can be abused, just a food support gluttony and a soft bed sloth, but to be aware of these possibilities and tread between starvation and excess, insomnia and idleness, is the Middle Way. Or so I’ve been told.
I know how I use writing for good, to seek greater understanding and explore the nature of (non)self, and for ill, to prop up my ego and seek acclaim. I must take care not only in what I say, but why I say it, and naturally how it is said. For although I may write mostly for myself, I do also write for others (thus, a public blog) and I must take care that in my own twisted wanderings I do not lead others too far down a wrong path. For this reason, I’ve always felt it best never to take myself too seriously (and have only occasionally sought to publish outside my blog, at least on matters of dharma) and hope others don’t either.
Saying something is better than saying anything and saying nothing may often be the wiser course.