In Praise of the Difficult

A family member once said of my writing that they wished I would just “get on with it.” It being the story. I didn’t take the comment as being cynical or overly-critical, I took its meaning to be that my writing is not for everyone. I actually appreciated the comment more so than the insincere ones that are more frequent. I’m a big boy who has been writing since 1980; I know intuitively that my writing is not for everyone nor should it be.

Some tell stories by writing — craft. Some show language by writing — art. I’m the former. This is not to say those who write more out of craft perspective (plot, verisimilitude) do so without some art, and vice-versa, but the general thrust, for me anyway, is that I am creating art (words, pattern). There are advantages and disadvantages to either, regardless of whether or not the approach is one arrived at mechanically or organically, by design or impulse. My impulse has always been toward words more so than plot, toward pattern than to mimicking reality. In other words,  I am more interested in myth than mimesis, more organically attuned to the mystical, the submerged than the recreation of sensory detail. This does not make me a better writer. It makes me. Simple. This realization took its sweet time, even though much of my earlier writings were more in touch with my real intentions. Through school and wider reader acceptance my writing, (after my initial impulse to become a writer began to fade and I thought of myself “as” a writer), the work began to be more about pleasing others than myself. In essence, I was betraying my art. I became so frustrated that I sat down at my keyboard one hot Texas morning and wrote for about an hour without any regard for a reader other than myself. I was writing as if to say, this is me, take it or leave it. Once I finished it I thought, what the hell, I submitted it to a journal — by nightfall I had a return e-mail accepting the piece for publication — my fastest-ever acceptance. This approval validated my deepest thoughts about writing, about what writing meant to me, which was that there is a place for every voice and that you dishonor yourself if you do not allow your true voice to be heard. What I came to realize is that as a writer you dance with the partner you came with, you are the writer that you are and as soon as you diverge from this salient realization you lose. I vowed to be the writer I wanted to be, not the one others wanted me to be.

This choice of love over gold, more art than craft, more of a language focus over a story arc, is a costly one. The majority of people who come to a book either on the page or on a small screen, are seeking story. I don’t think this contestable. But for a few, what they seek is an engagement with language, with how language with all of its merits and inadequacies patterns reality and is used to express a state of mind, the mind and soul of the writer that composed it. I write for those few. (Not to say I don’t also write for the masses from time to time, but generally I have found my work  at such times to be not my best).

I write to provide a view into my state of mind. This makes reading my work at times difficult for others (not through fault of their own, partly). It’s not that I am writing to be difficult, it is that I am writing about things that are difficult to put adequately into words, or that my particular view, highly idiosyncratic, is so personal it is largely untranslatable. But this does not discount it. A dancer interprets and moves; an actor interprets and acts; a painter interprets and applies paint — as a writer, I interpret and write not necessarily in verisimilitude, but in a close approximation of my state of mine — how my mind and soul sees the world.

As to its difficulty I always ask this simple question: When you met the love of your life, or met the best friend you ever had, did you know them completely and utterly at first glance? Hardly. As one comes to a difficult and complex relationship one does so over time, not by one instance. Imagine all of the people in your life now who would be otherwise had you not taken that second look. Difficult art is often dismissed out of hand because there is not an immediate understanding — as if patience were not a virtue. Story we know. And then what happened? Expectations are met, granted and one is not lost. Art we come to know. Art is that friend that is with you through thick and thin even if sometimes you haven’t a clue what they’re nattering on about.