Tag Archives: vision

Affliction and The Writing Life

28 Mar

“Being a writer is an affliction” a friend of mine recently posted to his blog.  I couldn’t agree more.  I write because I must.  It’s a necessity.  This is who I am.  It is a state of being, as my friend suggested.  Ultimately, I did not choose to be a writer.  Rather, the work and wonder of being a writer was placed on me by forces outside myself.  Sometimes I try to ignore it or go so far as to deny my calling.  As well, I take legitimate rest from it.  But always it is calling me back with stubborn persistence.  It is a weight or pressure as formative as glaciers. 

I commented to my friend’s blog that his post reminded me of the 1997 movie Affliction.  Nick Nolte played generational alcoholic Wade Whitehouse in this painfully riveting depiction of addiction.  The film (in which James Coburn won best supporting actor for his role as Wade’s whiskey guzzling father) causes the viewer to feel like an alcoholic, always off balance, never quite able to establish the foundational, the real, the essential way to proceed.  Sometimes when I write I feel like Wade Whitehouse.

Affliction is an apt term for the writing process.  The stumbles, the falters and false starts, the painful humbling that must occur for writing to be anything close to good, are discomfiting.  A friend once called a poem I wrote “dismissive”.  And yet I was compelled to continue with revisions. 

The addict who has come to the end of all hope knows she cannot save herself.  She will either despair unto death or be resurrected to new life.  If she is raised, it will come from outside herself and that too will be an affliction with all its attendant sufferings and humblings. 

Affliction is the way of the writer.  But it is not an empty or self-destructive affliction.  If I merely look within for hope and inspiration I am defeated before I begin.  But if I look beyond myself, listening, investigating, quietly considering the friction caused by outside forces on my person, I become more of who I am.  If my work fails, who am I to demand its success?  If it succeeds, who am I to demand its precedence. 

If I think I know my craft, I do not yet know as I ought.  And thus I am tempted to despair.  I suffer “corrosive self-doubt” (James Lee Burke), but I write because I must, this is who I am.  If you wish for your writing to give you substance, it is no better than addiction.  But if at the center of your substance is a writer, you do well to embrace your affliction.

Dickinsonbird

9 Aug

…not a creature failed–
No Blossom stayed away…
~Emily Dickinson

Mockingbird, where do you begin
and which are the sources of your spring?
Curious the clouds that fill your well.

Veiled in drab plumes you seem a jest.
No man, by sight alone, could guess
your sung surprise, your unexpected spell.

Curious the clouds and dark the dirt
that nourish and expose your verse—
a crown and trunk rise from buried root.

          I am beguiled and beguiler, but you!
a winged prophet, a truth-teller,
a humble stump bearing lovely fruit.

Capably you quip; you chirp and charm
until by feathered phrase and turn
I lift my head. You offer a reward

to the trespassed and trespasser: a place
where grief and glory have a face
and your dull body pierces like a sword.

Saturday Coffee

25 Jul

I press the chop-saw through a two-by-four
and Van Gogh glares dust down around him.
Above his clay-brown hair, the rim has a big chip.

His expression says, I never asked for this
as if he guessed that fate would glaze him.
I make another cut: yellow dust settles

on the last of the cold black in my mug.  I pause,
arrested by his sober gaze…then check my mark
and raise the piney dust again.

VanGoghSelfPortrait1889-90OrsayAA web