Sunday, August 16, 2015

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

--Joan Didion, "The White Album"


Today is the morning of the hottest day of summer. Somewhere above the verge of the forest a young red-tailed hawk is burring. Closer to the window I hear the nasal ankh of a nuthatch, the long rattle of a grasshopper. Light brushes the tumbled red dahlias, the thicket of lavender and white phlox, the tight lemony shrubs of marigold. Under the maples the grass is thick with dew. A brown spider launches a sticky strand across the clotheslines. Soon I will lumber outside with my baskets of wet laundry and destroy her work.

I have spent this past week driving, and talking, and scheduling, and cooking, and tending my young nephews, and editing, and mowing, and harvesting, and getting a poetry collection rejected, and I am tired. Some of the stories we tell ourselves in order to live don't move the people who hear them. I am not complaining or resentful. This is just the way of things.

Still, the stories exist, and we have told them. "We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices," continues Didion.
We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. 
Or at least we do for a while.
Today is the morning of the hottest day of summer. Already, in this letter, I have told its story, one of its stories. I left out the robin's song and the shadow of the brussels sprouts sloping over the dusty soil. The bird in the forest may or may not have been a red-tailed hawk, young or otherwise. The spider may have removed her web to a blueberry bush. The only sure ending is the laundry.

"You couldn't write a bad poem if you tried," said a voice on the telephone, but this of course is untrue. I can write a false poem, a flippant poem--easily, with scarcely an effort. I can labor over poems that I love and politely listen to readers explain why they hate them. There's a cost to all of this, as you know--you who love your stories as you love your awkward, imperfect, heartbreaking children.

"I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative's intelligibility," writes Didion, "but to know that one could change the sense with every [movie] cut was to begin to perceive the experience as rather more electrical than ethical."

Today is the morning of the hottest day of summer. "The experience [is] rather more electrical than ethical." Already the light has shifted from fairy tale to furnace. I am forcing myself to write about it, to avoid living inside it.

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