March 3, 2010

You Can’t Handle the Truth

It’s 20 degrees this morning here in Laramie but sunny. We’ve had a long cold winter. Usually, we’ll get snow, but in a day or two it’ll melt/blow/sublimate away and we’ll have cold temps but it’ll be sunny and the ground will be clear. This winter, the snow came about Halloween and we haven’t seen the ground since. We haven’t had a winter like this since 1999/2000.

This winter, as I sped my way to work or my way home, I’ve noticed someone new walking in our neighborhood with his dog. He’s a big man ~ medium tall and at least 350 pounds. He walks with that ponderous clown-shoed weight-shifting shuffle of large people, his breath billowing out before him. He wears a big dark down coat that puffs and hangs around his midsection. He doesn’t walk fast, but he walks determinedly. His dog is a black-and-white Australian shepard who has that breed’s focused but tentative nature. It’s always looking around and sniffing but paying attention to its owner too.

When I saw him again this morning, I again wondered about his life. Is he walking for his health, trying to lose weight? What prompted him to start doing it? Did he have a health scare? Did someone he love convince him? And is the dog a new dog? Did he get him in order to have to walk him? Or did he just move to the area and that’s why I haven’t seen him before?

Wondering this made me think about where ideas come from. It’s a question a lot of writers get. I find that it’s the wrong question. For me, if I’m writing regularly, I am bombarded with ideas. They’re everywhere, in everything. I feel guilty about not being able to realize them all. It’s like you have to be tuned in to the right station. You have to be tapping the creative root (to horribly mix my metaphors).

And if I don’t follow up on the idea, which feels so fresh and urgent and full of possibility, it will fade. Even if I write it in a notebook, a few months later I might glance at it and think, what was so special about that idea? I can’t even remember what that idea was.

But that led me to the thought that, when I’m in that frame of mind, I’m especially attuned to the world. I’m receptive and empathetic and outwardly focused yet inwardly focused too ~ on shaping that experience and wording it. If I have a form in mind, I’ll start crafting it right there while doing whatever it is I’m doing. Which drives you crazy if you can’t immediately go and start writing it, I can tell you!

Which brings me to my final point, which is that, to be a writer, you have to be especially attuned to the world. I guess I can’t say whether other people are also this attuned ~ maybe social workers and bartenders and other people-focused professions ~ but I know with me the world affects me too much sometimes. It feels false and slightly hysterical and stereotypical and self-referential to say this, and that’s why I hesitate to assert that it’s just writers.

However, my final takeaway is to ask this: as a writer, do you find that the horrible and wonderful truth of the world is just too much to bear sometimes?

What I’m Reading Today: Catching up on some Poets & Writers and AWP Chronicle.

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