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What Writing Means To Me

28/09/2013

There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.

Note: Stream of consciousness was the primary narrative device driving the style of this post. Well, my own brand of streaming.

A writer I chanced upon told me the quote above. It was only much later that I caught on to the real meaning of those words, but at least I was able to find some consolation in them; that there is no such thing as perfect writing.

All the same, when it came to getting something into writing, I was always overcome with despair. The range of my ability was just too limited. Even if I could write, say, about Corsac foxes, I probably couldn’t have written a thing about what a Corsac fox would wear. So it went.

For many years I was caught in that dilemma, for a long time, one might say. Of course, you keep telling yourself there’s something to be learned from everything, and growing old shouldn’t be that hard. That’s the general drift. Ever since I turned sixteen, I’ve tried to stick to that philosophy of life. Thanks to which I had been dealt smarting blows, been cheated and misunderstood countless times, or just as often got myself into the strangest situations. All sorts of people have come my way telling their tales, trudged over me as if I were a bridge, then never come back. All the while I kept my mouth shut tight and said nothing.

Now I think I’m ready to talk.

Granted I haven’t come up with one single solution to anything. For that matter, by the time I get through talking, things might be no different than when I started. When you get right down to it, writing is no means to self-help. It’s scarcely a passing attempt at self-help.

Still, it’s awfully hard to tell things honestly. The more honest I try to be, the more the right words recede into the distance. I don’t mean to rationalise, but at least this writing is my present best. There’s nothing more to say. And yet I find myself thinking that if everything goes well, sometime way ahead, years, maybe decades, from now, I might discover at last that these efforts have been my salvation. Then lo, at that point, the foxes will return to the brushes and I will set forth a vision in words more beauteous.

Haruki Murakami has this to say about good writing:

The task of writing consists primarily in recognising the distance between oneself and the things around one. It is not sensitivity one needs, but a yardstick.

With me, it had to have been the year my grand-mother died that I took my yardstick in hand and began checking things out ever so cautiously. That’s already been over a year ago, and in that year I’ve tossed out quite an assortment of things. Just like when an airplane has engine trouble and they start tossing out the baggage to reduce the weight, then the seats, and finally they’ll even toss out the flight attendants. Over this past year I’ve tossed out all kinds of things, but taken on almost nothing in the process.

I’m not entirely sure if it was the right thing to do. Certainly it’s made my load easier to bear, but the prospects are awfully scary: in old age, when it comes time to die, what on earth’s going to be left of me? After my cremation there won’t be a bone remaining.

To those of gloomy spirit come only gloomy dreams.

That’s what my grandmother always said.

The night my grandmother died, the very first thing I did was reach out and kiss her lips. And as I drew her myself away, the dreams of her sixty-plus years quietly dispersed like a passing summer shower on a high street, leaving not a thing behind.

One more point about writing. And this will be the last.

For me, writing is extremely hard work. There are times when it takes me a whole month just to write one line. Other times I’ll write three days and nights straight through, only to have it come out all wrong. Nonetheless, writing can also be fun. Compared to the sheer difficulty of living, the process of attaching meanings to life is altogether clear sailing.

I was so startled upon awakening to this truth, that for one week I didn’t say a word. If I so much as paid the slightest attention to things, the world would start to conform to my will – that’s what it seemed like. All values would shift, the very passage of time would change. Paradigmatic in a sense.

The catch became apparent, unfortunately, only much later. I’d rule a line down the middle of a notebook page, put down all the things I’d recently gained on the left, and on the right everything gone by the wayside-things I’d lost, things I’d crushed, things I was glad to have lost track of, things I’d sacrificed, things I’d betrayed – the list was endless.

A gaping chasm separates what we try to be aware of and what we actually are aware of. And I don’t care how long your yardstick is, there’s no measuring that drop. What I can set down here in writing only amounts to a catalogue. Not a novel, not literature, not even art. Just a notebook with a line ruled down the centre. And maybe a lesson or two in it somewhere.

If it’s art, music or literature you’re looking for, you’d do well to read what Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Aristotle & Plato wrote. In fact, any Greek or Roman should suffice. And what I learnt reading the works of these ancient master is that in order for there to be true art, there necessarily has to be slavery. That’s how it was with the ancient Greeks: while the slaves worked the fields, prepared the meals, and rowed the ships, the citizens would bask beneath the Mediterranean sun, rapt in poetical composition or engaged in their mathematics. That’s how it is with art.

Mere humans who root through their refrigerators at three o’clock in the morning for last Easter’s Ferrero Rondnoir are incapable of such writing.

And that includes me.

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