Everyman Knows


What shall we say, shall we call it by a name
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin.
– The Grateful Dead

There was a well known and successful writer interviewed on TV the other day. Her name escapes. Suffice to say, her ship is in. She was saying that the writer has to know something in order to write.

I don’t know about that. I tend to throw in with Joseph Campbell, who said

He who thinks he knows does not know. He who knows he does not know, knows.

If he’s right, everyone knows, and nobody does. But see if you think this little piece gets any air among the clouds of unknowing.


Passing Trees

“What time is it?”

Taking one hand from the wheel, he started to push back the sleeve of his jacket to see his watch, then stopped. He glanced over at her. She sat looking out her window through the rain, at the trees.

“There’s a clock on the dashboard in front of you.”

“Is it right?”


“So you won’t tell me?”

“What’s the use of having a clock in the car, if you always ask me anyway?” But now he did push back his sleeve and look. “The clock on the dash says the world is one minute older than the watch on my wrist. So I’m going with the clock. I’m feeling pretty old right now.”

She frowned and watched the trees, a dark wall and a dark road, a grim and rainy day. She did not look at him, or care about the time. It was only something to say, some excuse to conjure his voice out of the distance between them. It was a good voice, solid and deep, a comfort so often, and always in the dead of night. Sometimes she lay awake and whispered I love you, and he would answer in that voice, without waking. Love you too.

As they passed the end of the orchard, a field opened up. It was fallow, the earth broken and turned. Far back from the road was a brick house and a barn. The house was brightly lit, and smoke rose from the chimney. It was a stranger’s life sitting quietly surrounded by death, waiting to be swallowed by time and rain. She could not wait to get home, turn on lights and music, make tea, and pretend, like that house pretended, that the world was safe.

“I hate myself for leaving him there.”

He checked the mirror and said, “It’s a nice place.”

She turned at looked at him. “Nice? I hate us both.”

“Now, now. Yes, it’s a decent place, as …”

“And he hates us too.”

“… as such places go. Pleasant and homey.”


“He’ll come around. It’s very nice. He’ll get used to it, make friends, have activities. You saw they have a piano in the recreation room. And the courtyard will be warm on sunny days. We’ll visit and take him outside. He’ll be fine in no time.”

“He’s never yelled at us like that. Never at anyone, that I can remember. So angry. Like we’re Eskimos, shoving him out on an ice flow.”

“We’ve been over this. Can you really pretend we’ve been thoughtless?”

“Do they even do that, did they ever?”


“The Eskimos.”

“I don’t know.”

“He said we’re going to hell.”

“Oh God. Everyone is on their way someplace, but not there. And we’re only doing our best.”

“No. We could do better. We should bring him back. Fix up the spare bedroom.”


“Rent one of those hospital beds. I could take care of him, I know it. I could quit my job, we’d get by.”

“You couldn’t. You can’t even lift him. Neither can I.”

They passed the end of a narrow road that broke the blur of idle land and disappeared toward the hills. She saw that her hands were resting on her lap palms up, waiting to be filled by something only God could design.

“You know him better than me.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Since the hour of your birth.”


“So I hope you’re right. But he’s already haunting me.”

There was another line of trees close against the road. Almonds, dark and full of rain.


Creative Commons License
Passing Trees by J. Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License

meanwhile, in the shade

I found this in the prefatory text of today’s A Word A Day from Wordsmith.org.

Short story writer Guy de Maupassant once wrote, "Whatever you want to say, there is only one noun to express it, one verb to animate it and one adjective to qualify it." As a master of the short story, Maupassant knew something about finding the right word.

While a word has many synonyms, each synonym has its own shade of meaning. A good writer picks just the right shade to paint a picture with words.

Well, that’s true. That’s what we do. Well, it’s what you do, you good writers. The rest of us stare at the sheet of paper until drops of blood extrude from our foreheads, just trying to imagine the vast array of possibilities. By some accounts, English has over a million words.


The truth is that everyone consults the color palate of words, but writers take it more seriously and pursue it as an art. (Or in the case of business and technical writing, a profession.) There is a poet in every man, just like everyone makes music, even if it’s singing in the shower. We’re not all Beethoven, but we’re somebody.

When my nephew was a baby and learning to talk, he would see a telephone and say tonebach. It was the perfect word. But it’s weird that he chose a sound that was closer to telephone than simply phone, since we rarely use the older, larger word anymore. And he used tonebach for everything from a wall phone to a desk phone to the smallest cell phone. How did he know? Because babies are geniuses, that’s how. Words are an exploration for them.

Writing is always an exploration, whether it’s discovering the hidden lives of characters or the perfect way to say you owe me money, pay up.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
—Thomas Mann

Oh, that’s right. And there are several reasons. Among them is the fact that it is our art, so we can’t stop until we get it as close to perfection as possible, and the last drop of sanity forces us to abandon it and move on. It’s never simply good enough.

There’s the search for something to write about, and that’s usually hard. Though I admit that sometimes for this blog, I just paste in a quote I find interesting, then see where it leads. That’s what I’m doing now. And isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t Van Gogh see a field of wheat and follow it into his mind?

Writing isn’t often fun and it isn’t always done for fun. And that’s an extreme over-generalization. But it has some validity, at least for me when I’m wearing my hat of poet and literary writer. It’s all about practice, just like mastering a musical instrument. And It’s about digging for common groundwater, buried streams that run between our lives. All too frequently, the subterranean shores on which they meet are points of pain and grief. Such feelings are common in the lives of human beings.

When William Faulkner – my ultimate, all-time favorite writer – accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work–a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.

Then there’s the solitude, the need to find free hours, and the fact that the people around you don’t appreciate that very much. You go off by yourself for long swaths of time, and come back with very little to show for it. Especially compared to someone whose art is The Well-Tempered Clavier or the well-turned chair.


Well, it’s nobody’s fault but our own, after all. We could’ve made chairs, or birdhouses. Or some nice paintings of mountains, rocky coastline or dogs and cats. (Though people might have more room for books in their lives than for chairs and paintings.) We choose to string words together, finding the right ones and the right order for them, and we’re probably stuck with that choice. It’s a calling too easily accepted, but borne with some difficulty.

There was a strong sense of the sacred in my task. She should be borne from her old bed to her place of rest in one fluid motion, as of a bird in flight. Still I wanted to lay her down so badly, just for a minute to shake out my arms and stretch my back. No. All I have to do is this step, then that step. One after another, the next right thing. Like words in their order, or how you tie a knot. Step by step until I get it done. It’s my burden to bear and mine alone. I should be grateful for the privilege. Not every man has half a day to spend on death, let alone kindness.

— Kyle Kimberlin, Charlie’s Crossing, work in process.

the mood I’m in

On Saturday, I posted that I’d learned about an interesting technique for visualizing a creative design project, called a mood board.

Wikipedia says, “A mood board is a type of poster design that may consist of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition of the choice of the mood board creator. Designers and others use mood boards to develop their design concepts and to communicate to other members of the design team.

As promised, I gave one a try for my novel in process. I had some images that I’d collected in a folder. They were meant to help inspire my writing, but had never been brought together to help each other jiggle. Other images I found pretty quickly online.

It was kind of fun, but challenging. I had to find photos taken by other people, in some cases before I was born, which actually look like what I’ve been picturing as fiction in my imagination. The dogs were may have been the hardest photos to find, because I’ve been not only imagining their appearance but their personality.

I think it turned out well, for a first attempt.

You can view and download my mood board by clicking here.