Word Wrangling

I’m having a weird high-tech/low-tech moment. Here I am, curled up in an easy chair in front of a woodstove with a cat in my lap, and writing. But not with a pen and paper; here I am, writing on a laptop that is connected to the rest of the world only through the power of mysterious waves emanating from a device in the office at the other end of the building. And this is the rhythm of my life: chop wood, turn on computer. Cook dinner, order spices through internet. Snuggle child to sleep, check on situation in Egypt, watch Monsanto’s inexorable slide towards controlling the entire food supply.

It has been a week of writer’s block, mainly. It’s not that I have run out of things to say; it is that ideas run over, tumbling against one another, unruly thoughts, each demanding the largest part of my attention… until I sit down to capture them, when they scurry away, pell-mell, to be replaced by whims and the internet. Ever so much easier to read somebody else’s thoughts than to try to pin down these frisky critters flung about all over the tableau of my psyche. Take this post, for example. I was going to write about how my life is so much less automated than it used to be when I realized the absurdity of the situation. Well, yes, we have to cover the windows and bring in firewood. We have to open and close the chicken coop on a daily basis, and clear the solar panels to keep the computer charged (although we have a completely functional electrical grid hooked up to the plug below my desk.) Yet the knowledge of the world is at my fingertips, I can see/hear the music I want, catch snippets of movies, confirm precise quotes, look up whatever book arrived at the edge of my awareness and place an order for it without leaving my desk. This is a strange and ridiculous juxtaposition that lays waste to my original thesis, but illustrates my problem with rampant ideas.

I have over a dozen posts in draft, but I can’t quite make them work for any number of reasons. Most of them are slippery things, playing just around the edge of my abilities and knowledge. Big questions, thorny questions, questions of human motivation, social construction of knowledge, science and religion, race relations in Canada. Arguments and explorations that turn on subtleties of language, precise definitions, and making clear my assumptions… Is that claim too sweeping? Under what circumstances might this be true? How is class/privilege tied up in this issue? Can I call him a prick without being crass?

There is a math joke about two professors. One professor is working on a proof, and he has written it on the board in his office. His colleague comes by, looks at the board, and says, “Oh! It’s obvious.” The first professor sits down at his desk to think about it. Every day for a week, he comes in, sits down and looks at the proof, ponders it, considers, writes down a few lines and goes back home. At the end of the week, he smacks himself on the forehead. “It  is obvious!”

I had a similar conversation with an English professor this summer. He said that by the time you’ve worked with ideas long enough to integrate them into your thinking, they become so obvious that they no longer seem worth reporting. Only, he also pointed out, this reasoning is flawed. Clearly they now are “obvious” to you, but the ways in which they fit into your own worldview and the ways in which they are new contributions can get lost in the process of thinking them through. Which is why, right this moment, I’m working on showing up. Writing, whether it works or not. Thinking, whether it is true or not. Struggling with the words, getting them down… having faith that they will eventually hang together. Or the deadline will hit, and they will have to do.

4 responses to “Word Wrangling”

  1. I like this bit about how, once you’ve written something, it can seem mundane and uninteresting to you. It’s a good insight that we have to just trust in the inspiration that built it.. and accept that we have lost that perspective. Rediscovering a work after several months, it’s always amazing to me how different it looks, after I’ve gained back a bit of distance.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post!

    • It was a very helpful bit of wisdom he passed on, because I was talking about how I write all the time, but I never publish anything. I rarely run out of things to say; I just lose faith in their veracity or novelty before I show them to others. I see this PostADay challenge as an opportunity to MAKE myself let things go before they are ‘perfect’… or, in this case, clear enough to me that they no longer seem worth saying.