“We are most nearly ourselves
when we achieve the seriousness
of the child at play.”
Central to our ideas about spiritual and literary authenticity, I think, is our old friend struggle. Whatever is “serious” must be difficult. The poet Mary Oliver, for example, tells us in her Poetry Handbook that writing memorably is “unimaginably difficult.”
In one sense I agree with her. I have been re-writing this section of the book for weeks—adding, subtracting, revising, driving myself crazy to find the trail, to feel the electricity flowing through it.
But my “work” in revising wasn’t the Sisyphus kind, grinding and thankless. It was the “dog gnawing a bone” kind—driven, fueled by a fire inside. That’s not difficulty, that’s engagement.
Another poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that a person “should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”
Emerson’s words suggest that if writing well is difficult, the difficulty is of a different nature than the kind we’re habituated to.
It’s not the kind that requires heroic force, but rather subtle attention.
The difficulty consists of taking ourselves more seriously than “bards and sages”—or any institution, moral code, wife, or relative. Or as Jesus put it metaphorically, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” The “me” here isn’t really Jesus. It’s you. Central you. Core you. Deep you. Beyond the chatter you.
Writing memorably is unimaginably difficult only because it’s unimaginably easy. For who could imagine that in order to write, you don’t even need to write? You need instead to trust something else to write—the you that isn’t you.
Musicians don’t look for a ridge; they look for a groove.
Art is not a mountain you climb but a hole you fall into.
—An excerpt from
Making Belief: Speaking for a Natural, Intelligent, Outlandish Faith