Saturday, December 20, 2008

Terry Tempest Williams, Fear, Listening, and My Book

"Courage is moving beyond our fears to a place of engagement. If we dare to write the book that threatens to kill us, something holds us together beyond our personal terror. Fear is replaced by a purpose beyond ourselves. I trust the truth of my questions that allow me to write in the direction of all I do not know. It's the unlearned moment. It's trusting the unknown territory of the heart that has a wisdom all its own, shedding our conditioning in favor of the mysterious. I trust my instincts.

Listening honors the mysteries among us. We can respond openly, rather than simply imposing ourselves on the situation at hand. It certainly makes life more interesting if we embrace the questions rather than simply harboring answers. Listening, by its very nature, creates a space of transformation."

--Terry Tempest Williams, from an interview in Image (#58)

I am at the point in editing my manuscript where I MUST listen, or I'll get it wrong. It's instinct now, all instinct. In the above interview, Williams goes on to discuss how she organized her newest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, that she tore down conventional chapters and section breaks in order to create a mosaic effect, in order to mimic how we perceive and participate in the world--as broken fragments--and to highlight or impose the play of metaphor. Williams is keen on the power of story and metaphor to create spiritual, cultural, and social change, and this is something I am strongly drawn to. It's something we are losing in mass media, of course, but also at home, at the dinner table, in the garden, alone on the reading chair. But it's there. I might consider (de)organizing my book like this--if I have the right instincts.

I feel that in working on my book I confront chaos at every turn, and a sense of fear that comes from that. It is hard to hold so much in my head, to have faith in what I'm saying and how I'm saying it. I think about all the books that never get read and all the words that never get said, and somewhere inbetween is a great anguish and joy--the line between them is very thin.

To find coherence in 95,000 words is terrifying, just as I imagine classifying all the fauna in the world is, or preserving the vanishing language of a native people, or mapping the galaxy. Chaos is everywhere and consuming and frightening--it's beautiful, too, just as order can be. Language is both chaos and order, and therein is a powerful metaphor.

9 comments:

Susan Tomlinson said...

It is a fear we all know well.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Oh yes, and hugs to you as you get through it. :-)

Gail said...

The danger is to collapse into the abyss of fear....Trust yourself Benjamin, your truth, your words are there, inside you, a bridge for you to safely cross. gail

Benjamin Vogt said...

Susan--Fear of everything, isn't it. In the same interview Williams quoted someone who said writers need two things, stamina and something I forget. I am short on stamina.
Gail--I liked that moveie (The Abyss). See, I can't NOT be sarcastic even int he face of seriousness....

IBOY said...

When I was a young man, I held pretensions of following your pathway; however, reading about the lives of successful authors led me to the conclusion that you need to have four things line up like bells on a slot machine: talent,luck,drive, and guts... in the end I never had the guts to find out if the first three would line up for me. You, at least, have a good shot at it. More power to you.
Don

Benjamin Vogt said...

Don--I'd add stamina. I am pretentious and believe I have talent and drive, but the luck is the key--definitely the key. Maybe guts is drive and stamina, or, the ability to take the rejections over and over and not stick your head in the oven. You've found your voice in your impressive gardens, and I think it can be just as effective there as in any other medium.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

"I think about all the books that never get read and all the words that never get said, and somewhere in between is a great anguish and joy..." I like that.

Hope you had a happy (and productive) holiday, Benjamin. :)

Pam said...

Great post, one that made me smile (but perhaps with a creepy sort of smile). I recently was talking to someone, acknowledging that finally I accepted that I enjoyed chaos - perhaps even craved it. My existence is pretty chaotic - and for a long time I think I felt that it should be calm, quiet - that in order to come to any sense of personal or professional 'peace' (whatever the hell that is) that I needed more order. I now know that it won't happen, or at least I really doubt it will happen - and what do you know? There's something oddly calming about accepting all of the chaos. Strange. Writing is so hard. Editing is even harder. Nothing is ever finished. Yeah, stamina - but yeah, courage. It takes courage to finish something - perhaps courage to say it's finished. Then it's like you're saying you've reached your limit, that it is all that you can do (and that is what I have trouble with - admitting that I've reached my own end to something...does that make sense?).

I've rambled on long enough. Hope I made some sense!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Kim--Yes! Someone liked something! Hope you had a lovely holiday, as well. How many garden catalogs have you received this week? (I'm at a dozen I think.)
Pam--Oh, I love it when you drop by! Accepting the cahos isn't giving in, it's becoming a fuller part of the world around us. IT's not chaos, but out attempt to "order" it all and alienate ourselves from it truly does seem to create chaos. So, far, I think writing might be harder than editing, but I go back and forth. I need so much quiet all the time. I'm soooo afraid taht when I turn this in it won't be done, that I'll keep working on it even though I said I won't, that I need a break so bad, that Ineed to find myself again (or find myself elsewhere, since writing is finding yourself TOO much...).