A lot has been said about writing as an act of creation, so much so that we’ve probably become more jaded than we realize. Articulating experience via language is, after all, so simple a child can do it. And self-proclaimed Writers are ubiquitous. You’ve probably heard, as I have, that some 80 percent of Americans think they’ve got what it takes to be a writer. Those of us who take writing a bit more seriously are easily creeped out by such suggestions. “Keep it to yourself,” we mutter under our breath. “You’re turning my stomach. As is your prose.”
Yet even bad writing thrills the writer as it erupts. Why? Why? Why do so many of us feel a compulsion to articulate experience?
Perhaps because it represents an even more fundamental compulsion. Here’s from Jung’s memoir, something he wrote after watching massive herds of animals grazing on a savannah in Africa:
. . . the cosmic meaning of consciousness became overwhelmingly clear to me. “What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects,” say the alchemists. Man, I, in an invisible act of creation put the stamp of perfection on the world by giving it objective existence. This act we usually ascribe to the Creator alone, without considering that in so doing we view life as a machine calculated down to the last detail, which, along with the human psyche, runs on senselessly, obeying foreknown and predetermined rules. In such a cheerless clockwork fantasy there is no drama of man, world, and God; there is no “new day” leading to “new shores,” but only the dreariness of calculated processes . . . man is indispensable for the completion of creation . . . in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence — without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being.
Writing, as an act, embodies the act of secondary creation. It objectifies existence, literally: all at once that which we know to have created is visible in three dimensions.
It doesn’t matter what kind of writing it is, whether it’s a blog post, or a novel, or an email to a friend, or a weepy entry in a private journal. It is a relief to do it. No matter how nonsensical the act itself make sense of our experience.
The mystery of words is that they are also, however, unruly creatures. You may think they are tools at your command, but they are also messengers. They dwell on the cusp between objective and unconscious reality; this is why they can have double meanings, or express sometimes things that we claim we didn’t intend them to express.
That same quality also makes them a delight, of course, which is why gaining a bit of skill as a writer makes the act even more pleasurable — the act of secondary creation, performed with some inkling of awareness, or rendered artfully enough that in partaking of it we begin to waken, even slightly — it’s a heady thing — it is why we recognize that some writing as Art.
Take love, for instance, plenty of examples here. A mystic will tell you that if you reach the leafy crown of the magical beanstalk ;-) you’ll discover all love is really The One Love. But down here in the world of foolishness and poverty and dirt and beans we have, instead, this sort of love and that sort of love. Then come along the secondary creators who play with the word. Ray Charles secularizes the gospel song “Jesus is All the World to Me” and in so doing casts words of Christian love into the service of Romantic love. Sixty years later, Alison Krauss goes back the other way, recording a song about Christian love, only the object of her love is hidden, slyly, within the vernacular of romantic pop:
Am I a fool for hanging on?
Would I be a fool to be long gone?
When is daylight going to dawn
On my crazy faith?
The questions will not let me sleep
Answers buried way too deep
At the bottom of a lover’s leap
Made by crazy faith.
Lowell George’s fat man in the bathtub isn’t suffering unrequited love. He’s having trouble scoring drugs. That said, it’s no coincidence that being “in love” is a dopamine high — and ho ho ho, cocaine also happens to elevate the brain’s dopamine levels: even down here in the world of dirt and beans it’s easy to find overlaps, universality is also biological, the language overlaps, the poignancy of this sort of love overlaps the poignancy of that sort of love.
Spotcheck Billy got down on his hands and knees
He said “Hey momma, hey let me check your oil all right?”
She said “No, no honey, not tonight
Come back Monday, come back Tuesday, then I might.”
I said Juanita, my sweet Jaunita, what are you up to?
I said Jaunita, my sweet taquita, what are you up to?
An unanswerable question, of course. But there’s some relief to be had by putting it down on paper.
(1975 video of Lowell singing Fat Man is here. Cleaner recording. I like the rendering of Rock and Roll doctor from the same session more though.)
[tags] writing [/tags]