Sunday, August 30, 2009

Turning Away from Words

I feel myself turning away from words, just now. I feel a strain when I try to write an essay or a poem every day. The strain is partly about expectations, and also about how often words have failed me lately. That I cannot articulate my world via words, just now. Even trying to articulate this, choosing my words with a bard's precision, I feel them fall far short of what I mean, or hope to express.

I find myself, this part month, turning more towards music, more than I have in a long time. Perhaps I have reached the end of words, of what words can do for me. Perhaps I’ve been silently making photos for long enough now, with no need for words around the images. Perhaps I’m returning to the music because I’m finally healing from the emotional trauma of the past few years. Or all of the above. I’ve been turning to poetry too much; it’s become a stale habit; it’s starting to run out on me; I don’t have much use for it right now; and I have even less use for the blogosphere or the online poetry world: I don’t want to talk to any of those people, right now. Let them continue with the same arguments and opinions as usual, while I go off and make music. It was a year ago and more that I first turned my back on that world, and left those places behind, while continuing to write poems. Now, I don’t care at the moment if I never write poems again. I have no doubt that I will. I just don’t care if I do, for now.

I know how this opens me to accusations of not being a “real writer,” because writing is not my nervous tic response, the main or habitual channel of expression, for me, when all the world falls apart and there’s nothing left. When the world falls apart, and everything you try to say turns to ashes, that could be acedia—but it could also be a limitation of your chosen medium of expression. Well, I never claimed to be a “real writer”—quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve said many times how writing is a creative channel that’s easy for me, easy to do, easy to fall into; but how it’s not my main channel. I partly don’t trust words because of their apparent ease: too glib, too surface, too easy to gloss over a feeling, turn it into a shallow sign rather than a resonant symbol. Writing can be too easy, and therefore divert and distract me from those deeper places, rather than spelunk them.

I know a few poets and writers who forcefully reject the notion that some things can’t be said in words—they view such comments as heresy. Setting aside any notions of their psychological dependence on their chosen means of expression, there is the simple fact of experience which we have all had, overcome with emotions such as grief, shock, profound joy, overwhelming love: there are some moments when nothing can be said. Wordsworth said to write about it later, when you’re too full of feeling in the moment: but that’s a writer’s tic, and even writers need embrace other modes of life. These are also the same poets and writers, by the way, who claim that “poetry is the highest artform, because it’s the most abstract.” That’s patently absurd, on the simple logic that if you’re going for abstract, there are things far more abstract than words precisely because they’re wordless; for example, instrumental music; for example; dance. Again, it’s a bias peculiar to writers to want to frame all of the ten thousand things into words. The bias of the medium is the bias of those who practice it; no more than that.

I find myself not running away from words so much as feeling stale. I want to turn, positively, towards music for awhile. Not in rejection, not running away, no matter what it sounds like here—further evidence that words fail me lately—but running towards something that feels more able to articulate what I need to express, just now.

I want to re-engage with composing music, and bring that back to the foreground, to be my main focus for the near future. Yesterday morning I started notating a new piece for chorus and instruments. I’ll work on it again this morning. Yesterday I also worked to clean up my old Dowland arrangement, and get it ready to send out to someone. I have ideas for recording Stick music that don’t need to be notated, just recorded, redacted, mixed down. If I only work on m making new music a few hours a day, in the morning, at night, in those usual slots, the morning meditation slot, the late-night slot, if I do that every day for awhile, a lot of music will come out of it.

   Flow, My Tears

Poetry is stale right now. Words are stale. I have been feeling like I’ve been pushing at doing words for a month or so: pushing because it’s become expected of me. Not that I have an audience for any of my creative work, albeit there exist one or two interlocutors of merit. No one cares what I make, amid the welter of empowered creatives generated by the new technologies (questions aside about the superficiality of expression relative to the sheer glut); and I don’t expect anyone to care. But I’ve been feeling that old feeling again of doing something because others like me to do it, want me to do it; of doing it to please others. I don’t want to make poems or music or art to please others. That’s the wrong reason entirely to do it. It’s never a good enough reason, to satisfy my own needs. So I’ve felt I’ve pushed a few times this past month, pushed at the words too hard. And they’ve predictably resisted being pushed—just as I would do. There is no blame; merely an awareness of limits.

So many times this past month I’ve chosen not to write in my journal, because it was too painful, too hard, and I did not want to commit the hard things I was feeling to any permanent record. Doing so would have made them too real, and given them too much honor, too much permanence; it would also have made me go through it all, again, rehash it and dive right back into it, just after having come out the other side. I’ve written down some of the lessons, some of the insights, some of the truths learned. Those are what I want to remember. And the rest remains fresh in memory, for now, should an occasion come along where they need to be shared. But I don’t know that I want to write about these things; or need to. The word “should” is a coercive word, and I’ve been feeling too much lately that I “should write everything down.” I choose not to, just now.

Words can help heal, but they can also betray but not allowing one to move past a hurt and towards healing. Some kinds of healing happen best silently. Or via other media.

This isn’t about suppressing feelings, or being tight-lipped and stoic. You’ve read too much pop psychology if you think that. This is about learning where words fail utterly in their ability to describe certain states of being. I’ve felt betrayed by words that can’t get at what I’m feeling: things better expressed by other means. It’s also going deeper, and some of those deeper places are silent and wordless. Words float on the surface, lily pads on a pond. Underneath them lie places not easily revealed.

Emerging from those watery shadows I hear wordless melodies begin to curl, and rise.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I wrote a poem a good few years ago giving advice to a young poet. I was just going to quote a line or two but, what the heck, here's the whole thing:


        Words are the enemy.
        Please believe me when I tell you this;
        I mean you no harm.

        They won't give up their meanings
        except after a fight
        and they'll betray you without a thought.

        But the worst of it is:
        they'll shoot you down with home truths
        the kind you can't run from.

        So don't run.
        Just watch what you say
        is what you meant to say.

        (for Deb)

        Tuesday, 26 November, 1996

We've talked about this before, at least I feel we have talked about this before, the limitations of words, and so I could understand why someone like yourself (who is a multidisciplined chappie) would see to give words a rest for a while. Remember I wrote nothing for over three years by which time I had saved up two novels worth of stuff to write and I've never looked back since. That said, I cannot write prose just now. I can write poetry and non-fiction but that is it. So, I'm giving my prose a rest. I'll pick up my novel in a week or a year and know what to do with it but not right now.

Words will never provide answers because every word comes with its own questions and so words will only ever confuse us. In everything I write I recognise there is something I don't understand. Or didn't see.

I too feel drawn to make music. I've been away from it for so many years that it would take me too long to get up to speed. I have a camera that my wife bought me about five months ago that I've taken one photo with. Just the weight of it in my hand makes me tired. The thing is I really need to get away from words because that is all I have absorbed myself in for the last three years and I'm in a rut, quite a nice rut as ruts go but a rut nevertheless.

So, make music if that's what you feel you need to do. Post the tunes and I'll tell you if they do anything for me or not, just as I do with your photos.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Mark Kerstetter said...

Words are easy, but that's why they are difficult - especially prose.

And one of the beauties of visual art and music is that you can leave words behind.

Enjoy your music.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the good thoughts.

I will indeed be posting some music, and some scores of my own music, from time to time.

Some of this is just an awareness, I think, of pushing and being pushed too hard in one direction. It needs to lie fallow for awhile. I'll no doubt return to words at some point. I'll no doubt have things to say here, still. But I want to do it without strain, without feeling like I'm pushing myself to do it, like I MUST do it. So, I'm going to change my pace, and also spend more time on the music.

I've started writing a new notated piece, as I mentioned above. I might do some progress reports on that. If I can get it finished fast enough, there is interest in it being performed this Yuletide season. So I'm going to be spending my morning writing time writing THAT, mostly, rather than a poem or an essay.

Shifting gears. Crop rotation. All of that.

You're right, we HAVE talked about it before. It feels important to go with this flow, and not sprain my brain anymore. That's partly what this is all about: not pushing the river, but letting it flow. (And reporting on my own process, which is one thing this blog is all about, of course.)

Thanks again!

11:16 PM  

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