We write to negotiate our own relationships with momentariness and permanence, to speak with the dead, to bring them back to life, or try to, and of course we always fail to bring them back, and we call that failure art. Perhaps you’re like me in clinging for dear life to an uncertainty, sometimes powerful, sometimes faint, regarding the purpose and importance of what a writer or any artist does. Perhaps you share with me a reluctance to investigate that purpose and power too extensively, deeply, closely. Perhaps like me you cherish the lingering question: Is this thing that I do superfluous? Perhaps it is. And perhaps like me you agree with Bertolt Brecht when he wrote, “It’s the superfluous for which we live.”
I’m utterly unsuited to the task of telling you how to live a happy, disciplined writer’s life. I’m a slow reader, a deliberate tortoise of a thinker rather than the intellectual gazelle I would like to be; I’m undisciplined and unhappy writing and expect to be until the writing stops. I find a remarkable number of things to do in a day much more compelling than writing. I could give you absolutely sterling advice on how to avoid writing, how when you run out of things to do other than going to your desk and writing, when every closet is reorganized and you’ve called your oldest living relative twice in one day to see what she’s up to and there isn’t an unanswered e-mail left on your computer or you simply can’t bear to answer another one and there is no dignity, not a drop left, in any further evasion of the task at hand, namely writing, well, you can always ask your dentist for a root canal or have an accident in the bathtub instead.
Trying every day to tell the truth is hard. There are harder things, of course—arguably, living with lies and meaninglessness, living in despair is harder, but it’s hardship disguised as luxury and easier perhaps to grow accustomed to, since truth is usually the enemy of custom. There are harder things than writing, being President Obama, for instance, and having to deal with House Republicans, or trying to fix the leak at the Fukushima reactor, these are harder, but writing is hard.
Why Poetry Can Be Hard For Most People by Dorothea Lasky
Because speaking to the dead is not something you want to do
When you have other things to do in your day Like take out the trash or use the vacuum In the edge between the stove and cupboard Because the rat is everywhere Crawling around Or more so walking And it is doesn’t even notice you It has its own intentions And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were Because life is no more important than eating Or fucking Or talking someone into fucking Or talking someone into something Or sleeping calmly and soundly And all you can hope for are the people who put that calm in you Or let you go into it with dignity Because poetry reminds you That there is no dignity In living You just muddle through and for what Jack Jack you wrote to him You wrote to all of us I wasn’t even born You wrote to me A ball of red and green shifting sparks In my parents’ eye You wrote to me and I just listened I listened I listened I tell you And I came back No Poetry is hard for most people Because of sound
“All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit’s fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay. They become so comfortable they never risk crawling back up the fragile hairs again. Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ they yell, ‘we are floating in space!’. But none of the people down there care. ‘What a bunch of troublemakers!’ they say, ‘Would you pass the butter, please? How much have our stocks risen today?’”—Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder