Happy New Year! I’m kicking off with a meditation on writing.
Whilst reading about writing recently, I tripped across a summary of some James Baldwin reflections on writing and the writing life in a post by Maria Popova (brainpickings.org).
” You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.”– James Baldwin, (Hat Tip: Maria Popova, James Baldwin’s Advice on Writing)
Simple, clean sentences. Owing to what I call ‘style,’ some of my sentences stampede across the mighty plains of white paper, run over the river and through the woods in search of rainbow’s end and the small pot of gold known as a punctuation mark called a ‘period.’ Finé. Done. Viva, stop beating that poor horse and give it a rest. But already fat and heavy with verbiage, I am riding into the next stampede in search of another boney sentence.
Or paragraph. Sentences clean as a bone. Paragraphs loaded with clean bones. And I choke a little. The bone caught in my throat is fish.
Another year has passed. Another year of witness to now. I am my own little Piglet — “… he tries to be brave and on occasion conquers his fears … “, a small voice on this noisy stage and I am afraid but I stand on my orange crate, pick up my bullhorn and whisper into the digital void. My voice is here. You might not hear it, but it is not about you. It is about me.
The sentence never ends. Chained to an ink pen, chained to a keyboard and screen, it is all about me. Stories hold us together. In this storyline, we are on my path of a writer doing writerly things, scribbling with writerly pens and we are lost in a sea of ideas. JRR Tolkien wrote that not all who wander are lost, and I don’t know if I’m swimming or if I am sunk but perhaps not all who flounder are drowning. The hard tools of writing are my lifeline for thoughts seeking expression and voice and I grab hold of that ring. It feels like a brave act of salvation.
Ideas captured and chained down in pen and ink. The messy first copy is not as clean as a bone. Given life on the page, it is up to me to carve til it hurts. Carve until we hit bone. And we are grateful that to participate in this activity means we are operating on a high level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Self-actualization sustains and if writing isn’t all that, it sure feels good.
It occurs to me whilst floundering and wandering in the ether of mixed metaphor that maybe the bones James Baldwin talks of are not those of the butcher but those of the archaeologist. I am not chasing thoughts like wild animals only to harvest their bones. No. I’m a writerly archaeologist sporting a virtual pith helmet as I dig in the dirt, examine rocks, blast layers, toss scat, breathe dust and celebrate mightily when I uncover that oddball sentence as clean as a bone.
That is the theory anyway.
Bone recognition skills required.
Being read is a gift. Thank you dear reader!
And here is to another year excavating for sentences as clean as a bone! May it happen with more frequency.
–Viva, January 01, 2019