A favorite truism I heard somewhere says:
"God gave us time so that everything wouldn't happen all at once."
It's clever, but like many truisms, not entirely true. You've noticed, right? Sometimes, everything does happen all at once.
I write this post at the end of a two week period bracketed by a traffic accident on one end (everyone's okay) and the death of a loved uncle on the other. Yes, technically, there are fourteen or so days in between, but there were other things in the middle, and to quibble over the true meaning of "all at once"...
Okay, I'm not going to win this one, am I?
Under my breath, I repeat: "I hold this treasure in an earthen vessel. His strength is made perfect in my weakness."
I suspect you've whispered the same, because everything seems to be happening all at once, everywhere I look, and my all-at-onces are lighter than some. A favorite teacher once told me that for the writer, traffic accidents and bereavement and all such things are material for the work, and in that way they are good.
Of course, he was right. So between the tears, I've carefully noted the physical feeling of disbelief (a sensation of distance, like a head cold), and how my body recoils each time another car comes close enough to hit.
The other day, Megan Sayer emailed a comment on Monday's Roundtable post, about the humility of, as Bonnie said, "admitting that my best ideas are always tinged with uncertainty."
Megan shared something wise, about the need to put our work out there, knowing it will never be finished, because we as artists are never finished. I thought that was very real and good. Not what I most wish for as a writer, but real and good.
I'm in the dismal camp of Madame Bovary, who once said:
Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to while we long to make music that will melt the stars.
Except that Madame Bovary blamed the language. So did Stephen King:
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings -- words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.
I don't think, however, that the problem lies in our words. I think the difference in the grand size of our timeless thoughts and the tiny size of our words on paper is the difference between aspiration and reality. Star melting music and earthen vessels.
As Megan noted, the temptation is to wait to produce until enlightenment beams out our fingertips. Wouldn't that make sense for those of us who wish to infuse our work with meaning? Shouldn't we wait to get the meaning right?
My uncle now has the meaning right. But no one can publish him.
On Monday I said something about being at odds with my younger self. It's true that I now disagree with many opinions I once thought un-recantable. What I have never recanted are the moments of empathy, and the moments of wonder. The veiw through another human's eyes, and the discovery of incandescent beauty when all around things are happening all at once - these are the things that are timeless. These are the things I find in the books I love best.