“You know what I’d like to be?” I said. “I mean if I had my goddam choice?…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all…And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d be the catcher in the rye…”
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
Who wouldn’t like to have written that? You can hardly put into words everything he’s caught in those lines–every bit of longing and need, every bit of hope, every bit of love. We want to know Holden, and we think we do.
I don’t think JD Salinger even wanted the fame and fortune that book brought him. What he wanted was to write it.
“Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”
Chapter One, Bleak House,Charles Dickens.
Written for profit? For an audience? For fame? Maybe. But I think you can see and feel his love for and enjoyment of writing in every word. You can open his book anywhere and find sentences like this one.
I know, we can’t all write like a Dickens (I can’t), but isn’t this the underlying goal? To try to?
And it’s a murder mystery, not a lofty book on social justice. One reviewer said of the main character, “Bucket can claim to be the first detective proper in English fiction…with his fat forefinger, his false bonhommie, his omniscience and his indifference to everything other than solving the crime.”
Dickens was one of eight children, raised in poverty, with little formal education.
“Two coyotes looking for afterbirths trotted through a pasture to the east, moving through fluid grass, the sun backlighting their fur in such a way that they appeared to have silver linings.”–from Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx, in That Old Ace in the Hole.
When people argue about writing for pleasure or writing for profit or writing for the audience, I think about sentences like that. People writing to capture truth, to lay it out to see if it moves you the way it moved them. To see if it leaves you vulnerable.
Taller than the Eiffel Tower, in a flat, desert area in the center of Australia. Eight miles around. More than 600 million years old.
Sacred places–unknown forces are at work to activate space with spirit. They hold things we want to know. Some of us believe we are meant to know. Some of us have a passion to know.
One morning, when I was staying up country in a valley of the Manzano Mountains, I got up early to see the sun rise. I went out on the deck, and as I looked across the field, I saw about a dozen turkey vultures, each perched on a fence post.
They stood with wings outstretched, unmoving, waiting to catch the sun’s rays, to warm their wings. It was a surreal sight, as if they were caught in a moment of worship.
It made me think of turkey vultures differently, to feel a kinship with them. We both were in that moment to appreciate something ancient and foundational that is rejuvenating to something deep within us. For that moment, we were worshiping at the same church.
Now when I see them surrounding road kill, I don’t go, “Ew-w-w!”
“I’m my mother’s girl,” she said drily.
Lines I love. It’s from an old movie.
So is this one:
“You should see her shoes.”
Look how much we know from that.
From a Taxi episode:
“I guess I’m in trouble when I start talking to the furniture,” Alex says.
“You’re in trouble when it goes to the door and scratches to get out,” Jim says, looking at the furniture.
From Anne Lamott:
She had such an epiphany, “I know I’ll be dating the Dalai Lama.”
A Native American proverb:
“As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
In a title for an article:
“Improvised Shakespeare theater company creates a fully improvised play in Elizabethan style two nights a week.”
In a medical article:
They’ve created a “beat-less artificial heart.”
I used to teach, and for a long time, I tried to do it “their” way–the ones who taught us: construct your lectures from primary sources and the most current research, insert them into the teaching space/arena, repeat. It’s okay not to allow questions.
Look what happens if you allow questions–things can go anywhere. Can you bring them back? Can anybody? What about that point to be made? So why would you ever allow questions?
But there were a few insurrectionists, like the film teacher, and you could find out that some people allowed that kind of pandemonium in their classrooms. Of course, they were labelled kooks or unprepared or just not very smart. And you told yourself only some subjects permitted it.
But my own teaching began to bore me and I felt more and more like a fraud, standing up there delivering “the word.”
So, gradually I couldn’t help myself, and I began to allow questions. Well, all hell broke lose. They had opinions that challenged my “established knowledge,” many of them said the first un-thought thing that popped into their heads, some felt they had “the word” because they were in touch with the media–social and otherwise, some were just full of themselves. But more than a few were about more than themselves and made me think, and for a while I flew by the seat of my pants with them.
That became my definition of teaching–teacher and student flying by the seat of their pants. They begin in the realm of the subject matter at hand and see where it takes them. Both can end up going somewhere neither have been. And it’s fun.
I think it’s how the best writing happens–a conversation with you and your muse/source/etc.
I liken the process to improv, a practice that hands us back ourselves, often through a process of standing up to our own immense fear of exactly that.
The only thing to be nervous about, as one long form improviser said, “is the potential for large-scale humiliation.”
See Patrick Stewart talk about improvising Shakespeare: http://americantheatre.org/2014/11/how-patrick-stewart-learned-to-die-onstage/