on writing: to what end?

August 2nd, 2010

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

— T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The cold, white gaze of the virtual page can be crippling. The rattling chaos of thoughts and ideas make a racket in your head, clamoring to come out. Your fingers are their conduit, and your eyes are the witness for the prosecution. The same brain that thought up all this stuff to begin with is your judge, jury and prison warden. How should I begin? What is it you’re even trying to say? If you’re writing in the English language, god knows it’s been written before, and better, too. And how should I presume?

You can’t move forward, you can’t go back. Ideas cannot be un-thought. They must be nurtured, or left to rot. But there’s a tiny little marble of a being inside you that says “Look. There’s something I need to say.” Anyone who has ever knitted a sweater, written a poem, penned a song, painted a painting, snapped a photo, has felt that stubborn little marble in their gut. It won’t go away. It persists. If you push it down too much, it comes back up, sometimes all the way up to your throat. It says “Look. There’s something I need to say and I’m going to say it.” And you brace yourself, because that little marble means business. You can push it down with callousness, fear, laziness, self-deprecation, alcohol, but it will emerge, in serenity or violence.

And when it does, there it is–a hairball, an alien, a strange mutant child with no mouth, no arms nor legs. You must mold it into something sensible, something useful, something that justifies its own existence.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

Do you have the arrogance, the cojones to presume your progeny deserves to live? Whatever this thing is that you need to say, to whom are you saying it? Do they care to hear it? Should they? Or are you talking to yourself?

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

You write a sentence and erase it. You write another and erase that. Paragraphs appear and disappear. But for the cacophony in your head, they might never have existed. The words slow to a trickle–a thin, polluted stream. You stop and start, hesitate, begin again, turn away, come back, walk the dog, write a bit, read a bit, rot your brain a bit, turn away in disgust, come back again. Create and murder, murder create.

And then the judgment begins.

You are, in fact, Prince Hamlet. To be, not to be, you dither about debating yourself, uselessly fretting and agonizing. Hamlet did little more than procrastinate.

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

What is this stuff you’ve written? Is it true to what you’re trying to say? Do the words fit the sentiment, or are they full of bombast and pretense? Has your little mutant child become a porcelain doll? Politic, cautious, and meticulous. Are you dressing her up for the public?


You know that purse is just a sow’s ear.





There are no muses.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

There is no supernatural voice whispering in your ear, no inspiration for which you thank god you’ve been blessed. You are not in thrall to a siren call.

The universe is far too vast to roll into a ball.

There is always an overwhelming question.

What can you do but ask?

How can you help but write your own answer?

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