“OF ALL that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.” (Nietzsche)
I’m a terrible writer. Every time I ponder why I suffer migraines. It’s a wonder I settled on a livelihood so dependent on writing! Why would anyone do that to oneself? How excruciating it is to be driven to say something while simultaneously suffering the anguish of trying to say it! It’s the incompleteness of it all, necessary and normal, which irks us in the process and in the face of the finished product. Experience is a stream and so are the words by which we desire to capture it. Writers who care feel this deeply, more deeply than they care to, in fact.
I often resign myself, as all writers must, to cut the umbilical chord when the frustration peaks and I enter the Sahara of insight and identification, of my words with my feelings and understanding. A battle ensues. My understanding is too quick for my words but my words, despite all their limitation, must prove themselves stronger. As in the UFC, my words must strategically arrest what I’m forced to describe as the opponent of my understanding. That is what must take place if I am to win the match my employer calls productivity and I self-development.
What’s even more paradoxical is that my understanding is given form by my words, a harrowing thought since words are temporally specific. We settle (in every sense of the term) on a phrase that later seems paltry and insufficient. The phrase becomes disjointed from what we think we remember about the jig in question. There’s much truth to the idea that our understanding is our words. However, I like to guard my experience of the multicolor whirlwind of my understanding, not as superior to words but as somehow richer, fuller, if tongue-tied. Perhaps this glorious inadequacy is what fills my heart with terror? Words enframe and give form. They are temporally specific as our experiences but words don’t reproduce what they simultaneously form: our experience, understanding, judgments, and decisions. It is a mystery, not in the sense that there is a deficit of linguistic theories to explain the occurrence. No, it is a mystery in the sense that the element of incompleteness and elusiveness is inherent in the act of writing. Theory can’t—is not meant to—remove these dimensions of writing while nonetheless forming the writing. We’re in yet another interstice!
And yet, and yet I say: we often dupe ourselves into believing our experience is superior to words. Experience, our understanding, is no more in the know than the words we use to express it. This is a grace, my reader friend! And it’s one I believe we experience when revisiting what we write. How often does it happen that what seemed (and was) incomplete has taken on a different and yet strangely similar sensibility. If it’s “better” it’s because we’ve allowed the writing to assume its autonomy. It now dictates to us (authors included!) “the” meaning framed by the words. Time, coupled with a little forgetfulness, prods us to appreciate the writing’s temporal specificity, its definite limitations. It may not capture the color of my understanding, which I felt, at the time, my words marred, but in permitting it a different significance I can appreciate what I dreaded to originally release. The text takes on what mysteriously seems an “enhanced” meaning no longer determined by the limitations I felt and communicated in my original experience. It’s usually only after the experience that I value writing as worthwhile.
All writers doubtless experience this dread. The relativity of whether we are actually terrible at it is probably best left to readers. However, when I say that I am a terrible writer I’m really saying that I experience the terror of writing, deeply. I’m a terror to myself. This is my spin on the epigraph. Hopefully Nietzsche approves! In any case, what I am to others in my imagination while writing is a terror for another blog.