Issue 228, Spring 2019
I used to be interested in mountains.
They moved at a speed I could deal with. They waited for me to catch up.
It was like that all my life.
Then we moved to California, and after eight years of earthquakes I began to doubt my ability to put things in order. I began to distrust the very idea of order. The mountains were no longer guiding me.
On the acupuncture table, waiting for the doctor to return and take my pulse again, I think, I need to write one scene at a time. I can make a list, and then just go scene by scene. It seems like such a great idea, and when I get home and sit down quickly before I need to pick up my son from school, I realize I no longer want to build something incrementally. I want to build it oceanically.
So I try to build it that way even though it sickens me to loll about in the wet, dimensionless chaos.
My teacher used to say that by the time he wrote a poem down on paper, he’d already done, in his head, most of the revision the poem needed, and that not much happened after it moved onto the paper. I admired this skill, and once I learned how to do it, it started to own me.
The ocean churns and changes and is never still. It’s formless but not timeless. It used to cover the mountains of Utah, and now it doesn’t. Just the other day, East Island, in the French Frigate Shoals, was erased.
The ocean is like mountains, just much faster.
The ocean’s form is mutable and its volume is increasing, its movement increasingly violent. The biggest thing in the world is getting bigger.
My body contains me, but inside my body is the capacity to dream, which is the biggest form of all. Maybe it is trying to save me from the corner I’ve written myself into.
The old forms no longer serve, my friend says of his own problem. He’s bored by filling the form available to him. He’s weary of the old, known forms. What he’s looking for is a form that isn’t yet available.
Recently I gave a lecture about the importance of repressing the intellect and of wandering. It’s about my quitting training to be a pianist, escaping that culture of perfection, and deciding to let something into my life that was nondeliberate.
I wasn’t really in control, back when I was a pianist. I submitted to my mother and to the bullies at school, who smelled the fumes of my home life on me.
Back then, the piano was necessary because it allowed me to demonstrate, at will, that I was capable of demonstrating something at will.
This lecture was all about my proud discovery that in order to write well, in order to make anything of quality, I had to give the authority over my work to the work itself, the form itself. I’d had to maintain a dynamic balance between will and surrender. The whole lecture was about why to do that, how others said they did it, and how I did it.
I was on my way to give this lecture, having found, earlier this year, that I’d become unable to maintain that balance. I was always either locked down and incapable of producing anything or at sea, directionless and bored.
Also, earlier this year, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in situ. After the requisite biopsies, I had an excision surgery. The resection wasn’t big enough. I need to have four organs removed.