April 05, 2010

On Writing

I've kept a journal since grade school. If ever I want to know who I was then, I can dip back into words that the 13-yr-old wrote and be her and my present self in the same moment. Words can be a time machine.

My memories are strongly rooted in physical sensations: sight, sound, smell, feel and taste. When I record the sensations, the memories spring up of their own accord. Just the words 'Jovan musk' conjure up a hug from my grandmother. Words can recreate experience and make the dead live again.

Find the right word can be a struggle. "The difference between the right word and its second cousin," said Mark Twain, "is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." It can physically hurt to find that right word. Sometimes a word is used to hold the place until you find the right word, but any writer can tell you which words fit their vision exactly and which ones still bother them. Words can be as finicky as finding the exact shade of oil for a portrait.

Words and language are a gift. No other method in our world allows one person to describe an idea, no matter how esoteric and ephemeral, to a person centuries later. The writer will never know the reader; the reader will never see the writer. Only the words exist -- and in all likelihood, the writer will never know that those particular words are what changed the reader's life for all time.

The realization of these things could effectively stifle any perfectionist from ever putting text to page. Who can live up to that sort of burden and expectation? Writers can write for the market, to sell copy and make money. Writers can write for the public, to stroke pleasurable spots and affirm people where they are. Writers can also write for the most difficult audience of all: their own muse, their passions.

I write to fill an ache, a question inside me that seeks an answer. When I see a lack in my life or lives around me, I try to meet some of that need with words. To solve a problem, any good diagnostician knows that correct identification of the problem is necessary.

For now, life is busy. Chores must be done and meals must be made. Parenting requires a lot of hands-on discipline and damage control. Sometimes words simmer inside until they escape in a rush, inarticulate in their need to be said or written. Sometimes I procrastinate because I don't have anything to say that feels necessary. As my mom used to say, "If you can't say something in seven words, for heaven's sake don't say it in fifteen." Obfuscation and wordiness are not writing.

In words of one syllable: I have not been good at word craft as a job. I am not -- I must go. The word smith must give way to the mom. Once more.

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