Thursday, April 26, 2012

En route from Chicago, Illinois, to Aroostook County, Maine

1385 statute miles
SW winds 5mph

At the gate now, heading back to the place that's the closest thing to home, I sit beside blonde college students in a purple headband and skinny jeans, reading George RR Martin, across from a middle-aged man in an orange baseball cap, reading The Economist, catty-corner from a younger man with Bose headphones and a Columbia fleece reading on his iPad. On the plane from O'Hare to Hartsfield-Jackson, on my way back from the airplane's head, I counted fully twenty people reading books on paper or LCD, no matter which. Methinks the death of prose has been greatly exaggerated. It's good to reminded of such things after filling my cup to overflowing at the font of literature, good to be reminded that all we do who write is not in vain.

Back to the earth I go now, back to plant lettuce and chard and broccoli, to dig my hands in the soil and walk while I watch the sky. I learned a couple of important things that have stayed with me after the festival, and I want to put them into words before I or anyone else forget them. First: the subconscious. I became aware that writers, in writing, are painting on the cave walls of the subconscious mind of the audience, which is why it's so crucial that writers pay attention to their own subconscious. All art, and I include in this category adventuring, and farming, is not about creation as much as allowing the spirit to flow free. It's about “getting out of the way of the story,” as Marilynne Robinson put it.

Second: specificity. Unexpectedly, this word came from the two essayists of the bunch, writers exploring the quotidiana of their lives. But Robinson spoke of that, too, of “creation being continually addressed to us.” That's a quote from Calvin himself, who believed that all of reality is a gift, each moment of reality a part of a slate wiped clean by God. And only in seeing reality as a gift can we see it as it really is.

Third: stories can only be told after the trauma of experiencing the story is over. This lesson I learned from Kate Braestrup, the only Maine writer at the conference, and the chaplain for the Game Warden Service here. It's a smaller lesson, perhaps, but just as important, and I feel that the link between all three is an emphasis on allowing one's art to flow within the larger flow of the river. “We step into the river. We are and we are not,” says Herodotus. “Time goes slowly when you're lost in a dream,” says Dylan.

It's all cinched together by the homily preached by Marilynne Robinson. Perfect love casts out all fear, says the Bible. Is it really that simple? Don't be afraid, and do what you love. Jesus says our burden is light. It's possible that's all he meant.

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