“As you get older, you should get impatient with showing off in literature. It is easier to settle for blazing light than to find a language for the real. Whether you are a writer or a bird-dog trainer, life should winnow the superfluous language. The real thing should become plain. You should go straight to what you know best.”
I’ve had that quotation of Thomas McGuane floating around in my mind for several days.
A language for the real. OK. I like that. But what’s real?
Is it real to say that my life is a continuum of bird-dog training, or sleep, or eating, or music, or silence, or suffering, or joy, from the spring of 1961 to the middle of December 2014? No, that is not what I see as true. I see fragments. And what I believe is real about my life – and possibly about yours – is that reality cannot be very simply said.
One does not simply write into reality.
There is so much about life and death that we have no language for yet. You know those memories that make you breathe a little faster, and how you face gets hotter, and then there’s the weeping equivalent of the dry heaves that makes your head shake and your shoulders heave, and you want to cry but it just won’t come so maybe you just say Oh God Oh God?
And you know how sometimes you feel the opposite of that, and you just need to stand on the Now edge of all the life you’ve ever known so far and clap your hands for the coming of the next nanosecond of existence?
And you know those times when you’re trying to see a fragment of boring old life that slipped by, but you can’t make it out because it’s hidden behind the shadow of a year that seems meaningless now, but you know that fragment is important now because somehow you would give anything to have it back?
Yeah, we’re supposed to find the words for that shit. And for what it’s like to bury the dead and to hold a puppy up to see the moon. And for Grandma’s biscuits.
Now I may not know much about the language of the real, but you need a pretty bright light to find your way to the point of making something real out of something that doesn’t exist.
As we get older, we should become impatient, period. Alea iacta est! But nothing becomes plainer, ever. And the task of the artist is to go by any route necessary to what he or she doesn’t know at all. It’s not about what we know best, it’s about discovering what we’re becoming, by holding a piece of broken glass to make a refraction of what we’ve been.
Let’s worry about superfluous language later.
I remember something Richard Bach wrote: “The original sin is to limit the Is. —Don’t.”
True indeed, Kyle. I once told a jury in closing argument when defending an obviously-guilty robber that the incriminating facts were but a “cacophony of coincidence.” On appeal from his conviction I read the trial transcript to learn that the court reporter had taken down my words as “a lot of coincidence.” The robber spent seven years in prison, true. But I’ve spent thirty-five years telling this story. The take-away? Both of us got what we deserved.
I appreciate your rebuttal to McGuane’s advice to “go straight to what you know best.” How limiting. YES to taking any route necessary to what we don’t know at all. Those things that we have no language for yet–that’s the source of so much power, so much art. Energizing post, Kyle. Thanks!