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Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Hair Of The Genius That Bit Him

Howl's Amateurish Moving Castle

Again in Medium, we read about writing by Ben Dolnick.

and come across a wee nip of the creature-genius that inhabits each of us, but needs to be coaxed out with a bit of cake or effort:

...While I was writing my song, I wasn’t worrying about whether I was a songwriter, or whether what I was doing was any good, or whether songwriting, as an art-form, had seen its best days come and go. My mind was too busy with a series of logistical puzzles: How could this part be made to fit with that one? What would happen if I took this chord and flipped it on its head? Could this line be made better? Amateurism, for once, seemed not a specter to be feared but a gift to be treasured. And it’s a gift I intend to smuggle back with me into the realm of fiction-writing.

“A writer,” Donald Barthelme said, “is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.”
This line, which had always struck me as terrifying, a Beckettian howl of wind across a wasted landscape, looked now, in the wake of my attempt at songwriting, like a curious kind of reassurance, even an inspiration. The fear, the self-doubt, the befuddlement: Yes, exactly! You’re on the right track! In novel-writing, no less than in songwriting, the freedom from strictures need not merely be a problem: it can also be the point. A license that was never truly granted can, after all, never truly be revoked.

Seen this way, how lucky I am, really, to spend each day participating in the never-ending apprenticeship that is writing. How silly to imagine that an endeavor as mysterious as creation — whether of a song or a novel — could, or should, ever be approached routinely. We see the pit, we nod hello to it — and we take a step.

I rush to point out that this holds true with most of our human endeavors, including that of experiences of the Holy.

If you cling to dogma, you will experience dogma. But if you take the leap into the unknown - the quest into the desert, the night journey, the ascent of Sinai, the concourse with the suffering of the world - you will nod hello to Holy.


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