ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
Let's Talk About Writing
To Write is to Live Inside a Dream.
This is not the sort of thing I do much, talk about writing. Unless you count one of the main characters in my first novel, or several essays I've written, or unless someone asks and I know they are not just making small talk, or conversations I have over dinner with friends, or if I just feel like talking. But other than that, almost never.
I dance around words. I pretend to hide from sentences. I tease turns of phrase. It takes me days to pick up a pen. I am a writer.
I want to tell you how some days I'm taller than buildings, can stop speeding bullets with my fingertips, carry babies from burning houses, and write my way out of anything and into anything else. Before you make coffee.
But it isn't always that way. Not for me. Probably not for you. Not for anyone else I know.
How can I tell you what it means to be a writer? Imagine you knew nothing of science, how would you describe air or what it feels like to breathe? How would you explain to someone from a dry planet that water is wet, or show the colorblind how the sky is blue.
I scribble masterpieces on matchbooks. I collect sentence fragments like fairy dust. I watch the world through my own kaleidoscope eyes. I am a writer.
To write is to live inside a dream. More than this, it is to be the dreamer and the dream. To live in a limitless world of seamless dimensions. Writing and dreaming share a common language. Both speak in metaphors, the only suitable tongue for this extraordinary experience called life.
I awake from a world of limitless possibilities inside a world of narrow boundaries. I scramble to scribble down the memories of the other side.
You and I are metaphors. Along with all we see and do. There is no explanation for life beyond the dreamworld, beyond what we can learn from poetry and from Zen masters. This world is an illusion, a fact we forget again and again and again.
Buckminster Fuller reminded us, There are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. Think about that.
To write is to fully embrace the world where the illusion does not matter, a world where things like love defiantly reign supreme. Because love is not the opposite of hate, of fear, of oppression, or inhibition. Love contains all these things and more.
This is what Rilke was talking about when he said, Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.
To write is to begin to know. To know is to begin to become.
Once you lose the illusion that love, good, righteousness are on one side, and whatever other thing you can imagine is on the other, then your ears start to open. Then your eyes start to hear. Then you may begin to write.
But make no mistake, that's what it is, a beginning. The dreams of our greatness, they come and they go. The moments of fearless are fickle and slow.
Maybe you'll read these words and either nod or shake your head. Depending on the sun or the moon or the tides. But it may or may not change your world. Because the truth is that there are days we all wonder how we got here. Days we stumble, days filled with fear. Days we look around at the room, wonder who will find us out and how soon.
These things, these thoughts, these soul-crushing doubts, by the way, are how we know we're on the right track.
Without them, without a sense of humility, without some acknowledgement of grace, of magic, of the muse, of the 10,000 hours of practice required, we'll never really inhabit this world. But that's a story for another day. Today we're talking about writing.
Because there is almost nothing better. As Bukowski once reminded us, you will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.
I spent the better part of ten years writing my first novel, Waking Up at Rembrandt’s. I say that like I did nothing but sit in a room for ten years and write that novel. That isn’t true, of course. Back then I did not have a small child dependent upon me for his livelihood. But I did have a day job, a penchant for travel, a taste for good wine, an epicurean addiction, and when I wasn't suffering a bout of espresso-induced insomnia, a love of sleep, each of which take up a lot of time.
The thing is, a writing life is neither glamorous nor easy. And yet, if it is in your veins, no amount of transfusions of normal life will help. So if you are called by these words, I invite you to let go of your resistance and join me. You won’t regret it.
As Bukowski also reminded us, the gods wait to delight in you.