Literary Notes from the Blue of Mountains
It is what you make it to be.....
N o t e s O n T h e A r t a n d C r a f t o f W r i t i n g
"Dying each others life, living each others death..." Heraclitus
There seems to be two forms of writing. One of these forms
is professional writing that one finds when opening the newspaper or magazine. This type of writing is dominated by
the need for communication. The writer gathers his or her resources, revises to be understood, get expert opinion on the subject,
and then passes that on to a mediating form like a publication. Communication takes two people at the very least.
The other type of writing is not communication but revelation. It depends
on the writer to be curious enough about mind and imagination that he wants to find out what happens when he puts things
into motion. Whether that gets communicated or not is not the issue. Therefore poetry and stories; novels are often the combination
of the two.
Whether a culture is prepared for one or the other depends on many factors.
To be prepared for the revelatory form of writing depends on a well-developed self, exposure to such writing in the past, a spirit not
afraid of his or her own mind, but with a critical perspective as well. This type of writing has never been popular at any time
unless it is couched as a kind of superstition. But, usually it is the only type of writing to survive.
A culture like the present one
likes things served to it on a silver platter, no fuss and no muss. It wants the facts and no confusion. These are some of the qualities
the professional writer needs to be aware of as he or she communicates with an audience. -
December 6, 2005
Write about the singular item that impresses itself on you day
after day. That item changes through time so allow your
writing to record the changes through time that you pass through.
In non-fiction, the mind plunges down into the apparent reality.
The flooded city, for instance, and all the despair it has brought
in its wake. Or, the war-zone. Or, the sudden outbreak of a disease.
In fiction, the mind plunges down into itself, its own dilemma,
it's own mystery and reports on what it finds. The eye sees the
looter and converts him into a character who knows too much.
Get off the learning curves as soon as possible. Reading the tenth
article on query letters isn't going to make you a better writer.
Write. Hard. Be selfish. Let your ego free. Life and the market will
correct the inflation. Perform. Absorb all the resources available
even the hidden, obscure ones and dance that dance no one recognizes
but time itself. Put knowledge at the center. Don't short-change
the reader. Let the mind lead to splendid places.
Listen to every sound available and let it permeate the words
you write. Experience teaches that some sounds are better than
Perception is nothing but a wonderful parameter through which
the imagination pours like a crazed army, hungry for booty and
Authority is always in disgrace. Study the structure of things.
September 30, 2005
Songs and Confessions of a Pissant
The one great sin is that of coming to know yourself.
Don't become a character of someone else's dream.
One desires to be a god, to be a criminal, to be a human all at different stages of life.
I feel sometimes like an utter newcomer. All the entertainment, ships in the bay, streets become habits.
You learn from the strident what you always wanted to forget.
When a piece writing appears to have a worm in it know that it was written when the author least
felt the integrity of his art.
First comes fantasy, then the critical intellect swoops down to carry it off; followed by
the excitement of an authentic dream, such as this one: The day will come when the world is connected together with a communications medium unheard of in
The erratic reader has no loyalty to official categories of various items of
contemplation. There is a core in each subject leaping out of some specific context into larger concerns. Reading old theology, for instance,
there are several cores that leap out at one; the limitation of the age the theologian was saddled with as well as the infinite variety of the subject. The subject
takes the reader and places him at the edge of a mystery only to be held back by the limits of expression given to him by his age. It's an adventure!
The technical aspects of knowledge are in competent technical hands.
A modern lament: Insatiable desires meet inscrutable limitations.
The most difficult task is to become as disinterested in your work as is possible.
The criticisms one has when young are empty without a knowing experience to contradict the criticism of youth.
The young take advantage of the poor qualities in, essentially, good things.
The art of writing is like the art of living: steer between the clashing rocks of nihilistic glee
on one side and utter, stark fear on the other. Steer straight between them with a hand firmly on the tiller.
The writer is simply a "babe in the woods," asking questions like, "what am I up to?" "Oh, go raise the soul
out of this spoiled, putrid age...."
What is the voice of the unloosened tribe as it sails through the cosmological eye? It only takes the
provincial galaxy 250 million years to rotate once. Let us, the voice says, rotate many times.
And the stupes war over Gods; God of the fundamentalists; God of the Catholics; God of
the psychologists; God of the masses; but never the God of liberation who sweeps the red plateau clean and opens the fundament of life to the
spirit in a man.
Moments occupied by more than a cigarette, a piece of food, a voice from the radio or TV, laughter at some odd occurrence, coffee,
a thought; moments, then, of small things on a circle of chains.
When younger I had the vanity to believe I was tolerant. It was an illusion as I gauged
everyone and everything through Perfection. When I looked at "success" I looked at what had been lost, not what had been gained.
The writer often feels like the young boy who has built a little boat and, without a lot of
thought about it, pushes it out to the high seas. He weathers storm after storm; surprise after surprise until he lands on an
unexplored, mysterious island. And when he returns home they laugh at him. They say things. Nothing will convince them so the
boy decides to build a larger boat and take all the skeptics along with him. But as he passes the harbor the boy has the awful, sinking
feeling that perhaps the first voyage was some kind of daydream.
August 30, 2005
That crazy old Artaud said that terror was the impulse of poetry. When people are
terrified they are seeking poetry; a combination of magic and pure hope that will drag the
horrible dread away.
There is a movie, for instance, where the first
and last fifteen minutes are utterly terrifying. The memory of several of its scenes
will terrify the audience months from now. The story
is simple, the characters uninteresting; the terror is set up as a series of amateur
technical tricks. And yet, the unalterable feeling invades one like an epic, recurrent dream.
At a certain point in falling asleep you are conscious of being in the familiar but
foreboding place you have forgotten. Perhaps it includes a train of people peering longingly from tiny black windows. You forget these
dreams but they linger like a nostalgic memory. The dreamer is aware of a vast reservoir of
experience stored in a bulky sort
of treasure hoard, important for some reason, but inaccessible.
* * * * * * * *
"Now the novel, that poor old dog, hasn't a chance in the so-called modern world." This was told to me
by a character in a dream. She was an old woman, a crone figure. When I woke up I was pleased I had been given a
sign of sorts and thought of the novels of the distant past, truly expressive of a
certain epoch, containing all the contradictions, forces, individuals, places and events that made up a specific period of time
But that was expected from the novel, then. Not anymore.
The leap from popular culture to a more self-conscious culture is not the novel;
it's poetry. Gone is the grand structure that made the great novel understandable to
a large, general audience of people. Now, the lines of expression are fast, without
thought, structured by sentimentality or violence that gets people down in front of
screens to watch a fish tank carefully arranged on behalf of specific demographic needs.
The novel can be a monstrous outrage, perhaps, in the middle of this smallness but the writer has to be
a kind of epic poet to pull it off.
After all, human nature doesn't change all that much. All that
changes is the environment around it. The novel, once the instrument used to orientate people to the world, now tries to
kick them out of whatever orientation has them in their grasp. The key element in understanding restless human
nature is understanding the experience of space. Space has been penetrated. It is a tactile quality now and forms the
sense of space of people. Caught in every conceivable trap, modern people experience nothing but tension and
conflict, the emotions of a caged, wild animal sensing that all that surrounds it is billions of light years of hostile space.
It's telling that the novel, today, is defined by its detractors. "Produce anti-heroes and we will produce anti-criticism. Produce heroes and we will simply laugh you away."
The spirit of modern people wants to possess the
fulcrum to pry a bit to see the light of their own time. Every generation sees enough to get a new mannerism.
It plays well in the media and popular culture, and then is used to sell the generation products as they settle down in middle-age.
But the novel, if nothing else, is a kind of beautiful object.
It's first consideration is that of the "perfect audience;" an imaginative creature
bold and beautiful-brained who feels that in beauty there is a kind of morality.
He can't prove it just as he can't prove or disprove that life exists in the universe
somewhere. He believes it exists, it excites him,
and that is sufficient.
An imaginary novel is perhaps superior to one fully executed these days. A novelist is like that dreamer who luxuriates in
the perfect epic dream that has him saying wow, over and over again, wow I can't believe I'm here!
And in his sentience, as he wanders through the epic wars and epic love scenes in this dream he feels what
men felt when they first crossed the plains in the hunt, or the first battle or the first seduction of a woman. The novelist and poet
are joined at that moment. But then, when he wakes he tries to relate the dream and its weight
and people shrug their shoulders or say, "oh, man, I've had dreams like that," and so he will fall silent. And the novel remains
imaginary, always at the edge of what he knows.
July 29, 2005
Nutty lyrics from the pissant who doth fly high above the city skyline.
"Pray for those who fear the world and its terrible speed. Light. Light is
the great speed."
"Pray for those mesmerized by money. Spirit. Spirit is the great freedom."
Instruction: To be hummed as a modern ballad, ala Ruby Tuesday or Lay Lady Lay.
All that is needed, when investigating one's own culture, is to seek out the tales.
And ignore the vulgar critics who are like the terrorists looking for heads to cut.
They always betray the truth. They are in purgatory; not ready for heaven and not brave
enough for hell. Always with the secret wish that with a little more penetration, a little
more impetus, a paradise will be found in the criticism itself.
In fact, one can say that the culture has a tendency to recede to an cannibalism at the intestinal level
Why? Perhaps it is the pressure gradient between the individual personality and the collective personality.
Change occurs when there is little defense against the great energies subdued daily.
And we make this interesting observation: Those who most seek power, even in the sublime
ways, end up impotent or dead in large, unheroic ways or in ruins, gaining nothing, having
nothing, losing everything.
* * * * * * * *
Youth, go ahead and invent yourself! Don't be ashamed. You will end up terribly disillusioned but
the sublime among you will keep a record around and use it when the mind matures.
* * * * * * * *
He perceives the secret desires of the woman hurrying along the city street with her briefcase held against her fluttering dress.
He listens to the marvelous sounds of houses. He watches the glass baubles that line one windowsill and sees
the reflection of strangers filling the entrance to rooms he has stood in.
He sees the fawning wife obey the man who will leave her in several years prompting the change long needed in her.
The host of powerful cameras move through the crowded parkway and record sensate material that is captured and transformed at his leisure.
May 29, 2005
Culture is fairly simple to understand. What inspires me to my best nature makes
me a loyal servant to the inspiration. Or, at the very least, a constant guest. And I catch a glimpse
of my best nature from time to time, especially when young and full of energy, only
to see it larded over in the fat of the times.
So, what inspires me at this late date? Certain music at certain times; Chopin,
Beethoven, Saint-Saens, or singers like Judy Collins and Peggy Lee. The singers, unlike the rockers,
have ennobled the world.
Reading about the effort to
build a Constitution in the 1780's. The Revolution. Any effort to banish slavery
and help the freed slaves. The Transcendentalists. Lincoln during the Civil War and
countless soldiers who fought and perished or survived and were never the same. Adventure
in the mountains. Any effort to ease the suffering of
other people. Flight. Computers. Great bridges. Fighting fascism and communism and
terrorism. Homer. Dante. Shakespeare. Mark Twain. Rilke. Neruda. Wallace Stevens.
Dickinson. The experience or contemplation of these things brings me closer to myself
than anything else. Buddha. Christ. New Testament.
If something wants my attention but doesn't inspire, doesn't bring me closer to my authentic self, then I wave
at it and wish it luck.
If it stops in its tracks and picks a fight with me because it wants my loyalty
and believes I should be loyal, even against my will, then I fight it.
It takes awhile to appreciate the idea of culture in a commercial
society selling death, degradation, and decay with clever words and images.
It's a hard effort but then the hardest effort is to actually create culture.
March 29, 2005
After all the pulsating years, the knowledge regimes, the escapades in cities
and towns, the faces endlessly passing in and out of the spirit; after all of this,
what? Doesn't it still come down to Keats' "truth and beauty?" A writer makes these
two easy sounding words work hard because nothing is known about them in the beginning.
They are the first terms discovered on a path the writer submits to; the long journey
into the soul of things without which there is nothing.
"Well, what is truth?"
Excellent question my good man. It is the singular point at which one is truly free,
without a desire in his bones to force his truth on anyone or even make it a cultural form.
It is that which survives the collapse of the will-to-power.
"Oh good, that clears that up.
Then, what is Beauty?"
"It is what it is, what is apparently itself as the writer discovers it on a path
he or she self-consciously move through." This path includes thousands of years of interpretation of
what beauty is as well as spontaneous outbreaks in the brain of the writer. Then it is tested in reality.
"This flower is beautiful." "This bridge is beautiful." "This atomic bomb is not beautiful." "This
prison camp is not beautiful."
Every object in the world can be assigned a place in the universe of truth and beauty.
A comet, for instance, is a beautiful thing; even if it were to strike the Earth and partially destroy it.
A computer can be a beautiful thing if it is isolated from the mass of computers and allowed to be itself.
January 29, 2005
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