On Writing

My nephew, a young man of few words, is an excellent writer.  In speaking he doesn’t waste words, neither does he waste them when he writes.   It is a rare gift, saying exactly what needs to be said and not saying everything else.

I tend to talk too much.  I speak in long, implausibly complicated sentences.  When I write I’m able to compose and compress my thoughts, refine my feelings, comb through and untangle my sometimes challenging syntax.  It is like anything else one loves to do.  You practice it every day, and after thousands of hours, doing a thing you love, it becomes more graceful.   It also never feels like work to work at improving your skills, it is a pleasure to do because we love the thing itself.

Not that we can master everything we love to do, but the regular doing is essential in any case.   Like calligraphy, which I attempt intermittently but without enough commitment to do gracefully.  I love the flow of ink on paper, and the look of beautiful writing, but my attempts at calligraphy are clumsy, endearingly, idiosyncratically clumsy, if you like, but lacking the flowing grace of masterful calligraphy.  In lettering beautifully the practiced hand must dance lightly, in perfect harmony with the ink and the paper.  My hand is heavy, jerky, my loops quirky, but so be it, I don’t practice the fundamental strokes of calligraphy every day, with enough devotion.

I’ll say only this about writing.   If you do it carefully, and seriously, without taking yourself too seriously (as I am right now, taking myself too seriously) you’ll find it easier and easier to write well.   Hah! Look at me.  Took a perfectly beautiful piece of paper and made an unartful blotch at the bottom, while giving a pert little lecture on the ineffable harmony between ink and page.  I don’t crumble it up, though it would be easy enough here to select this offending paragraph and hit “delete”.

Whatever else you can say about writing, and it is a beautiful and rare thing to be able to go back over and over and fix your mistakes until the words fit together as clearly as you can assemble them, it is far, far better to be able to write, and set things out coherently, than most of the alternatives available when you are faced with a thing that could otherwise choke you to death.

When I turned sixty I assembled those near and dear to me and told Sekhnet I wanted to celebrate by “holding forth”.  She was filled with dread at the prospect.  Her fears were in vain.  In the end, between the two sessions of my improvised stories (they demanded a fucking intermission) I’d only insulted a small handful of old friends.  I’d told a few endearing tales about people in the room, trying to keep them concise, but you know how these things go.

I recall thinking, at one point, that some of my friends must have been thinking (or maybe all of them were, at one point or another during my long holding forth) “who the fuck does he fucking think he is, holding forth this way, like his life is… why, I oughta…..”  I quickly put the thought out of mind, it was distracting.   

Better to hear poems about me recited by friends?  I thought not.  And, anyway, my bumpy life makes little sense to any would-be poet trying to put a few stanzas together to commemorate my life achievements.   Thought it better to attempt it myself, by saluting those I’d chosen as my lifelong friends, than leave that pressure on befuddled loved ones.   I don’t know if it’s related to my long birthday lecture or not, but I’ve seen relatively few of the assembled nearest and dearest since that day a year and a half ago.

Sixty years from now, I will hold forth again, if time permits.  In the meantime, I refine the best of myself here, in carefully selected words, in the manner of my nephew.  I have to say, I love this shit very much, writing.  It comes with an added bonus.   If I do my work properly I will get a “like” from none other than Tetiana Aleksina herself.  She has a knack for picking the ones I would pick myself.   Hello, my dear, you have excellent taste.

This entry was posted in writing.

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