Monday, February 27, 2012

You Know When

You know, when you're young, God sweeps you up. He holds you there. The real snag is to stay there and to know how to fall. All those days when you can't hold on any longer. When you tumble. The test is being able to climb up again. That's what I'm looking for. But I wasn't getting up. I wasn't able.

- Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin

* * *

There are times, fallow, empty times, when no words come. I am empty of words. Hollow with words. Hollow words. And I know the cure. Rest. Read. Quiet. Fill the well. But there are times the well does not fill and the emptiness becomes anger, becomes a rage of silence and all the king's horses and all the king's men are useless to me. It is then I realize (how many times?) that I am not empty of words, but instead have lost faith in them. I have emptied them of meaning, turned them back into so much phonetics–the sound and my fury signifying nothing.

This is the dark night of the soul: trying to re-attach meaning to where it has broken off.

The test is being able to climb up again. That's what I'm looking for.

* * *

I come from silent and raging people. Our woundedness was carried in great yawning silences, absences punctuated with wolf-like howls of despair and rage. I learned early I preferred the rage to silence and so became silent because the rage was an unhinging, a free-fall of emotion that could not be spent. There was always more. I withdrew from the other silences in the house. I withdrew my own rage and fell to books. I filled out every come on for the world's greatest books, the classics of the western canon complete with gold-edged pages and near leather bindings. The books would arrive and they were never paid for. I collected the starter sets and watched the subscription end because there was no money for it and worse, there was no interest in it beyond my own.

Here, as balky and misunderstood as it was by my family, was where I became over-awed with the fact of artistic production. I had to have every book by Kurt Vonnegut and when I stacked them on a shelf I was devastated by the fact that one man wrote all of those books. One mind caused those books to be and rather than simply read I needed to write, to be such a mind.

You know, when you are young, God sweeps you up. He holds you there.

* * *

It is easy to fall in love. It is easy to give yourself over to romantic fantasies. But to quote Billy Bob Thornton as Morris Buttermaker, "Baseball's hard guys. I mean, it really is. You can love it, but believe me, it don't always love you back. It's kinda like dating a German chick, you know?" Writing was and is my German chick, but for years the pursuit was all that mattered. There was enough potential to pretend for a very long time.

And then you fall.

All those days when you can't hold on any longer. When you tumble.

The easy God, the God of your youth is spent. What held you cannot hold you. A rough God goes riding over potential and insists on products, proofs, a performance as opposed to imaginings. And slowly you come to love this God more than the God of youth. This is a difficult God, the God of your ability. You have to earn it. And so you work.

This blog is part of my work. I write and write and when I finish a project, a story, an essay I am as empty as a broken cup. But I know this pattern. I know the cure. Rest. Read. Quiet. Fill the well. It comes around. Just keep writing. Keep moving a pen across a sheet of paper. Keep tapping out lines. Even if they suck, especially if they suck, keep the words moving. This is how books are written. This is how Vonnegut built his books. This is how anything in this world is done: keep the pen moving.

And here––mid-tale, mid-war, mid-labyrinth,
Mid-birth and -death, mid-once upon a time,
And midway through the names of all who died
In wars we can't say where, we can't say when,
Their stories broken off, the fragments fused
Mid-genealogy, mid-epitaph,
Annihilation gusting nearer; here––
Here the god of writers broke his pen.

* * *

My words ring like lead. It is what fucks me––these faithless words. I live through words and when I lose my faith in them I am unmoored. I used to imagine a stack of books published the old-fashioned way; something to put on a shelf. Maybe my life's work would add up to a foot or more of shelf space. That would be nice, eh? But somewhere in the scouring of my pride I lost the desire for a stack of books. Instead I sought to keep my faith in building meaning into my life one word at a time. Journals, blogs, notes, stories, essays, stories that might become novels, histories of small things would be enough and my life would know its arc. The real snag is to stay there and to know how to fall.

* * *




  1. Any words of wisdom for putting meaning back into your life if you are not a writer? I mean, I can write, but I doubt anyone would want to read it, it's not as cohesive as your writing.

  2. I have no wisdom, just the willingness to show up and try again to make thing come right. All I can tell you is believe in yourself. Fuck everyone else. I write. It is how I make sense of the world. Find out, re-discover what it is that makes you come alive and devote yourself to it. Henry Rollins refers to a "monastic devotion" to tend whatever it is that is you. You know the answer, Julie. You know it. It may have drifted from you, or you may have been told to drop it by someone, but you know it. Organize your life around it, and even in the fallow times it will sustain you. You were made for more than doubt. Grab hold of life by the short hairs and wring some meaning out of it. It can be lonely. It can be difficult and overwhelming. That is when you turn within and live by the light and integrity that you and you alone know of. You can be the author of your life without writing a word. Live. Build. Create. It is beautiful when you commit to yourself, to the life inside you. Abandon the doubt and fear. Life is more than its darkness. It is also the eternal spark of a life lived fully, on its own terms. You'll be great. I'll want to hear your story.