Friday, February 13, 2004


Yesterday as I waited for the library in Ft. Atkinson to open, I had some time to read and think and write. (If you make a habit of rising at 4:30 a.m., you'll wake at that hour whether you need to or not. The library wouldn't open until 9:00 a.m.)

Some things got spun together.

On the one hand, I was asking myself in my journal: what is the difference between "blather" and real "essaying," between recording trivia and writing something that matters, between the daily news and "the news that stays new?"

On the other hand, I'd just finished reading a book of Zen poems translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto, THE CRANE'S BILL. I started reflecting on the difference between "the moon" and "the finger pointing at the moon" and I recognized, then, that in some of my writing, I do manage to touch "the moon," but in other pieces I am still talking about "the finger." Is this the difference between blather and real essaying, that with the latter we actually reach "the moon?"

By nature I tend not to make logical arguments in my essays, as some writers do; rather, I seem to argue by image, one piling upon another. The wash of the images pushes the reader along. Success in doing this requires a personal and personable voice in the writing. How do I get "the moon," and at the same time retain the personal voice? The personal essay has always been driven by the personal, a real person. If potential readers are to read us, they need to trust us; if they are to trust us, they have to know us. To that extent we have to let ourselves be seen.

I also recognize already that I make two kinds of journal entries: (1) that trivia I need to write down for my own record, of little interest to anyone but my future self; and (2) project notes and entries that feel like the first draft of essays or poems, etc.

In going back to re-work pieces I am unhappy with because they seem taken up too much with the trivial, how do I edit out the pointing finger and get to the moon? Will anything at all be left to some of my essays if I take out the pointing finger? Isn't that scary to think about?

I'm sure there's an answer. And I'm sure the answer lies in: (1) always keeping my focus on the moon, not on myself, even when I'm part of the story, as in my Vagabond travels; and (2) developing and maintaining a steady voice that allows readers to know and trust me without needing from me too much talk about myself.

And I know that neither of these challenges is so simple as writing them down makes them seem. The journey starts with this first step and with recommitting, every day, to the path that has chosen me.

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