Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Quickening

I am keenly interested in the moment an idea quickens and begins to form into a piece of writing; one may be at a dinner party discussing wine or the World Cup, the latest Survivor episode or the symphony—who knows what nonsense, when the attention begins pulling inward, towards the stirrings of something readying for composition. It seems almost impossible to articulate the sensation of a poem trying to form; the sensation is visceral, surely. Things fall away and lose importance as the writer awakens to what begins to shape. It doesn’t take much to create that first impetuous inspiration, does it? Perhaps your attention, like mine, gets snagged on the lithesome curve of a fern frond, the surprisingly robust, broad and serrated outline of a banana leaf, or the startling spicy tang of an exotic fruit. But one might look at those things, or uncountable others, before something strikes, just right, just exactly so, and a chord resonates.

In the tropics, I find the muse is just as much an elusive tease as in the Pacific Northwest, but, equally compelling when located. What is the key? Traveling thousands of miles to some languid equatorial countryside? Yes, definitely. But perhaps too, it is the pace with which we move. Zen Buddhists use walking meditations as a path towards enlightenment. The mindful movement balances the effort of focusing with the body’s need for fluidity—sitting too long makes the brain and the body stagnate, as any office worker or student knows. It is probably not coincidental that so many avid walkers are writers—think of the famous writers of the Lake District—the Wordsworths, the Shelleys and Lord Byron. Colin Fletcher wrote a fantastic contemplation of geologic time while wandering naked (except for his boots) through the Grand Canyon.

Besides slowing down enough to hear our poems and stories, there is another element to completing the circuitry of art. Jack Kornfield puts it well when he notes, “The painter George Braque once exhorted those around him, ‘It’s up to us to be real strong eccentrics and not to waver.’ Eccentricity means uniqueness, finding the freedom to be utterly one’s own person. Even if outwardly we do not appear different, inwardly there is the fearless ability to be wholly the embodiment of yourself” (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry 212). So, a bit weird and a tad (selectively) deaf to the outside world, we can hear the unheard and bring it forth.


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