Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I found myself driving down to Mepkin on Friday morning, with Augie Turak and Ed Cheely. I had called Ed the moment I hit the road, just to see where he was at, and it just so happened that he and Augie were leaving at the same time. We met up at the I-40 / I-95 intersection and road down together.

"Here, you can sit up front," said Ed. Later it became apparent why he was so eager to get in the back; Augie was in full-bore discussion mode. Augie has always been given to conversation that verges on lecture; you have to be pretty strong in both philosophy and will to push back. Most people don't bother because he's so full of good things to say. But Augie has spent the last year working on his book, which is a lonely business for a man as gregarious as Aug, and his outpouring of philosophy has some extra voltage to it. He is, in the best and worst sense, full of himself.

So we talk about Nietzsche's critique of Socrates, and Kierkegaard's notion of grace, and surrending to the unknown. We get to talking a lot about writing craft, since Augie has spent months embroiled in paragraph, sentence, and word choices. I tell him about Stephen King's On Writing: "He says that most bad writing has too many extra words, especially adverbs. And the reason those word wound up there is because the writer lost his nerve. And he loses his nerve because he's afraid the reader is not going to understand him."

Eventually, I tell him about what happened to me when I heard about Francis. "None of this is coincidence," he says. "It's not a coincidence that you called Ed and wound up riding with us. It's not even a coincidence that you told me about Stephen King and about losing your nerve. You should have talked about it at the meeting you lead that night -- but you lost your nerve."

"No, it was a conscious choice. I knew it was the kind of thing I should talk about . . . but they weren't ready for it. I came close to calling you, Aug, but I decided not to, because I knew you would try to talk me into taking it to the meeting."

"Well . . . you still lost your nerve. You were trying to control it, to understand it . . . but you can't control a spiritual experience. Remember, you're not there to intellectualize with them, or facilitate, or fill their heads with knowledge . . . you're there to witness to a better way of living. And listening to you talk about Francis, I know that you've found a better way to live."

"What you're afraid of," he continued, "is that if those kids really found out who you were, they wouldn't like you. You're afraid you'll open up and spill your guts, and they'll look at you like, 'Jesus Christ, pull yourself together. I've got enough troubles without having to listen to you blubber about your hero dying. Shit.' But I'm telling you, that's not what's going to happen."

And then Aug told me about the last time he had seen Francis . . . how much Francis opened up about his fear of the chemo, and the suffering he was going through, openly weeping. "I was not put off, or afraid . . . he lit up the freakin' room. I had no doubt I was in the presence of a saint."

And we drove on toward Mepkin. Augie was right . . . or right enough, anyway. We can't control or understand what's Real. It's a lot like writing . . . all we can do is tell the Truth and trust that people will understand.


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