Thursday, May 09, 2013

"Blown by all the winds that pass and wet with all the showers"


Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing become a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in his blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.
A passage from E. B. White's contribution to Strunk and White. As someone with no fondness for guns or hunting, I can't say that I like his metaphor. At the same time, it has a certain relevance.

During my thirty-five years as a professional writer, I suppose I had several motives. Creativity: to make something instructive or beautiful. Ego: to accumulate some measure of acclaim. Money: to supplement my salary as a classroom teacher. I never stopped to think much about how I might be changing, what I might be learning, where I might be going. The ideas were coming faster than I could write them down. No waiting in the blind. No roaming the countryside. Bam! Bam! One wing shot after the other.

It was exhilarating. It was exhausting.

That's all over now. The pace is calmer. Ego and money have receded. Creativity is no longer an end in itself. It is gratifying to have some hundreds of people visit here every day, and for that I am grateful, but that's not why I write. Now, in retirement, writing is a tool, an instrument, like the mini-binoculars and X10 magnifier I carry in my backpack. Writing helps me see. Helps me understand. I write for the same reason I eat, for nourishment. That I have such a perceptive audience keeps me on my toes.

Sometimes I sit in my blind, this comfy chair on the third floor of the college library, in the midst of the Ps, Qs and Ns (literature, science, art). Sometimes I roam the countryside hoping to scare something up. Not as something to write about and sell, but as something to learn. Writing is a way of putting what I find on the stage of a microscope, of examining closely. Writing is a way of fitting novelty into an almost finished life.