I heard a musician on interviewed on the radio the other day -- I think it was Travis Williams, but I don’t recall and who it was doesn’t matter much -- and he was asked about a line from one of his songs. He said (I’m paraphrasing) “That’s how I know the words come from somewhere else. No way I’m smart enough to write that.”
That’s how I look at my writing. When I’m really into it (in the flow) it wells up from inside me and it’s all I can do to keep up with it. In those times, first drafts, edits and rewrites are a pleasure, refining something I know needs to be said. The right words in the right places, ideally the best words in the best places. Tone and tense and tempo all fit together, almost without my help, me as scrivener rather than writer. One time I tried googling a phrase I’d heard and only one citation turned up -- mine. I remember writing an article in a law review commemorating a recently-deceased federal judge for whom I’d been the final law clerk. I stopped by the office of a cynical old law professor and he had it in his hand. He looked at me and said, “Marvelous.” I’m not boasting here, I’m merely setting out the record. When I start to write, I write well.
But I don’t write often. I put it off, I find other things more demanding at the moment. I believe I could have made a career as a writer, but instead I worked at the fringes, as a lawyer, PR guy, attorney-editor, all jobs that required writing, but not only writing. I’ve never kept a job where my sole obligation was to sit down and write. I came closest by far two times -- once as a general news reporter for a small but respected weekly paper (I left that job because it was starvation wages and I told myself I couldn’t wait around for a big break) and as a law clerk for a court of appeals (I left that because I had to move away). And no place that wanted fiction --though I might have been a more successful lawyer had I been a better liar. In all those jobs, as in private letters and blogs and the like, the audience is limited and the writing is peripheral, often seemingly cast into the wind.
Not complaining here, either, just the record again.
There seems to be something else at work, too. Though as I said the words flow through me, they don’t flow easily. The image that comes to mind is that of a medium who goes into a painful and exhausting trance when the spirit moves him. It’s demanding of my spirit and it’s draining. So what happens is I tend to avoid it, sort of like trying to avoid throwing up after a night of drinking -- I know it’s going to happen, and I know I’ll feel better after. But I’ll do almost anything to avoid doing it.
Until the spirit moves me (literally, I think). Like now. I had to say this, and once I’m saying it, it flows, words following a pattern I didn’t know I knew. A message of some sort that had to come out, and at the outset I really had only the vaguest notion of what it would be. Is it good? Is it worth reading, much less worth writing? I don’t know. I rely on the kindness of strangers to find that out, and usually they have been kind. I hope you all will be at least understanding.
So that’s that part.
But there’s one more thing. If those writings come from somewhere beyond my conscious mind, where do they come from? The easiest and ostensibly most likely answer is, from my subconcious. But of course I can never know that for sure, “sub” meaning “under,” as in hidden from concious mind.
If one is of a religious or spiritual bent, the answer could be that they come from somewhere else in the metaphysical cosmos, and it is my lot to have to transcribe and polish them. (No, I’m not a meglomaniac or narcissist -- at least as far as I know -- I don’t claim to have written anything seriously profound and I don’t feel special). My personal view is more Jungian, I guess, the idea that we all share a common set of archetypes, and we each tap into them (willingly or not), each in our own way and style. I can even envision humanity as a gathering of weavers of consciousness, each of us drawing threads from our subconcious and knitting them into a lasting framework of human reality. (Are weaving and knitting interchangable? I think not but my source won’t tell me and I don’t think it much matters)
But anyway, and this is what I thought I had started out to say, are there things I’m supposed to write but don’t, or will I be blessed (or condemned) to hang around until I say what I am supposed to say, and then maybe fade away into dust? Or do those things I should have written simply stay unsaid, or does someone else draw that duty?
Is that even answerable?
Enough stream-of-consciousness for one night. I only know these ideas came to me today, and I avoided the writing as long as I could.
This is the result.
I’m talking about slathering the iron pole under my bird feeder with grease. What did you think I was talking about?
Anyway, as part of my relentless campaign to regulate who eats what out back, I’ve been putting engine grease on that pole and it seems to work okay. While doing so I recalled something I read awhile back, to the effect that while we are accustomed to thinking about watching wildlife (and semi-wild-life) we rarely think about wildlife watching us. But obviously they do. It’s a thought that sometimes gives me chills in the autumn, when blackbirds and grackles are assembling for migration, and their chattering black lines remind of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
But they’re not the only ones.
The chipmunks watch from shelter as I walk out there, or they freeze in place, beady eyes focused on me hoping I don’t notice them (and probably cursing me about the grease). A rustle in the branches reveals a squirrel. Somehow the chicadees always seem to swoop down as soon as I fill the feeder, and more than once I’ve been startled by the wrens, who don’t hesitate to challenge and scold me if I get too close to their nest -- and of course the rabbits who appear from nowhere when the back door opens. And the mosquitoes and ticks looking for their pint (it seems) of blood.
I suspect there are others -- the hawk in some nearby tree, maybe a fox in that wooded area, maybe (I hope not) a rat lurking. The half-dozing owl. Not to mention maybe a spider tucked away in a corner, or a housefly resting on the windowpane, monitoring me or at least watching out for me. A snake could be lying low somewhere, but I doubt it; I’ve never seen one since moving here, and I suspect years of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides have made things pretty toxic for them.
I would add wild turkeys, but not really the flock that lives around here -- they strike me as being like a motorcycle gang, strutting through the neighborhood, shoving other animals and the mailmen aside like so much chaff. They don’t look out for anyone, they leave it to us to watch out for them.
Not much else to say here. I mostly just wanted to use that headline.
Nothing of any significance today, just a bit of bemusement.
I've worked hard to keep our backyard creature-friendly; there's lots of ground cover, and only the barest minimum of lawn care (e.g. weed and feed) on the half of the yard nearest the house. The other half I mostly leave to itself. And we have no domestic predator, that is, no dog or cat. So we have the rabbits I've mentioned before (they annoy me by eating down the hostas), and a plentiful resident supply of chipmunks and ground squirrels. And of course the "real" squirrels, who bound through the yard once in awhile. A hawk who sometimes settles into the small tree near the house, no doubt helping to keep the munks in check.
I have two bird feeders, homemade wooden platform feeder in which I put sunflower seeds, and a plastic tube feeder, which I fill only with safflower seeds, because squirrels don't like them. They hang from separate, black, iron shepherd's hooks, beyond jumping distance from the cherry tree. Ideally, it's a little world of trickle-down economy: the birds eat the seeds, but not carefully, so the chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels clean up the fallen food. The squirrels do find a way to get at the sunflower seeds in the spring and fall, but other times they pretty much leave it alone. And I can sit in the screened porch, and write, and glance out at my little Eden.
Problem is, the chipmunks and ground squirrels do like safflower seeds, and have discovered how easy it is to shimmy up the shepherd's hook and chew away the plastic tube to get at the safflower seeds. They also vacuum up the sunflower seeds from the platform feeder.
Not playing the game by my rules.
I tried to keep the chipmunks at bay by opening the back door when I see them on the feeders, causing them to jump down and run away. But that's a rather ineffective, time-consuming (wife would say time-wasting) and ultimately futile effort. They lurk in the ground cover till I go back in, then resume their nefarious ways. Even I know I have better things to be doing. But it annoys me.
Anyway, yesterday, after the chipmunks brazenly and continually broke the rules, I decided I'd had enough. There are no baffles that fit around these thin poles, and if there were it would mean spending more on the project than it is worth. Electrifying the poles would be costly and cruel, possibly dangerous. So I went to the hardware store and bought a small jar of commercial lubricating grease, which I smeared on both poles.
And . . . . this morning I have had the distinct pleasure and great amusement of watching the chipmunks look up the pole and begin to shinny up, only to slip and slip, then slide back down and slink away in confusion.
Makes me happy. Now if I could only figure out a nonlethal way to protect the hostas from the bunnies.
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
― Omar Khayyám
Two weeks ago I became a grandfather for the first time, to a stunningly beautiful little girl. I know, I know, they are all that way, especially to parents and grandparents. Still, in this case, it’s true.
So, other than the usual awe of new life, how does it feel? It feels like an offer of affirmation, a sign of renewal from the universe. An opportunity and perhaps an obligation.
Whenever I do family tree research, I get the image of a pen moving across time, writing a particular story against the shared human background. Looking back, it’s decipherable, in different degrees, because it happened, and that’s done. Fascinating, but because the choices made were made, the story goes a certain way.
In my own generation, I have been the nub of the pen, the writer, like it or not, and the choices I make change the story, and are my portion of the line. In my life I must accept the obligation of choosing, and sometimes I choose what seems the better course, sometimes the safer course, sometimes the course of least resistance, sometimes the one with most immediate sense of gratification. Whatever they were, they were made and form the line. Sure, I can still change the story. But I’ll be changing it, not writing it anew. The past is fixed.
And this little one, the daughter of my daughter, is the new nub of our family pen. I’m part of her history, and someday, I hope and expect, she will look back at the line and see what I drew and how it led to her. I wonder if she will see someone like my father’s grandfather, a mysterious man who appeared and far too quickly disappeared, leaving behind little trace. I’m talking to you, Oscar from Ohio, who suddenky shows up in the records, marries into a long-running line, fathers three children, goes off adventuring, gets consumption, comes home and dies, with litle evidence that he ever was, save for a marriage license and an obituary. Not even a trace of a story.
Or someone like my maternal grandfather, a hard man who deserted my mother as a child, and who I saw only when he was old and needed somewhere to stay awhile and my parents took him in. Or my paternal grandfather, who died when my father was a teen and exists to me only in the stories dad and his brothers sometimes told.
I don’t want to be any of them.
I will try my best, little one, to be the best I can be, and to give to you what so many grandparents in my line never gave. Some substance to your story.
Ever since my parachute jump, I’ve occasionally basked in the kudos and even sometimes awe from friends and acquaintances, like Facebook and extended family. Even my college daughter’s boyfriend was impressed. Or said he was.
I don’t especially seek it out, but I don’t mind and I’m not above subtly working it into a conversation, like in response to a rote greeting like, “So,what’s new?”
I was in my spinning class and talking an acquaintance who is becoming a friend. He’s gray-haired but a few years younger than me, and in great shape. We usually park our exercise bikes next to each other. Ask about work, weather, sports. You know, the cautious way guys develop a friendship.
Anyway, I worked in the story about the jump, and he said “Wow.” Then, “Your first time?”
And I said yeah, and asked if he’d ever done it. “Yes,” he said matter-of-factly, “when I was in the army. 48 jumps.”
No basking for me that time. But I appreciate the fact that he didn’t scorn my accomplishment.
Separate names with a comma.