Friday, April 20, 2012

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Underlying themes thread their way in golden type through these days of feasting, of literary inspiration and intellectual challenge—one, of course, my newly acute awareness of the subconscious. Larry Woiwode, in his proem masquerading as a lecture, spoke of the mirroring pool of metaphor all artists draw from, how drawing detail from that well allows something new to be created between the mind of the writer and the reader. Jonathan Safran Foer said that when he writes the word “tree,” the reader conjures a tree. The writer writes, the tree appears, like magic, on the blank screen of the imagination.

This morning, Brian Doyle and Patrick Madden (yes, I realize all of them are men. Shall I diatribe? No) explored the genre of essay, and I finally realized what I've been doing here all of this time—betwixt all of the food writing and travel writing and spiritual writing and sports writing--I've been writing short, unworked, mostly bad essays. Patrick Madden's website is called quotidiana, and he uses it as an overarching metaphor for his work, the idea that in the essay we draw from the ordinariness of our quotidian lives, finding in them the realization that there is nothing ordinary. We need to sharpen our attentiveness to the daily holiness in each moment. I was given permission, the permission I didn't know I craved, to follow my trail of associations down the rabbit holes they lead me, as they always do.

Yesterday morning, in a bad mood after a panel in which my questions were not answered, intimidated by the participants and fearing my journey might be wasted, I dawdled by an entranceway, waiting for my sister. I heard a girl on her cell phone, her closer shoulder pointing in towards the wall, grinning, face bright with joy, blonde hair curled. She ducked away from me so I couldn't hear, so I couldn't steal her secret. Still, I heard: “I better go. I love you,” she said. I walked away. When I came back, she was still talking, still transcendent with love, maybe first love, newborn. It's been a long time since I've seen it.

New love is a sharp thing, with edges unworn by time and lethargy. I'm still very much in love, but a love aged, by life, experience, pain.

Then, today, a different girl, hair slicked back against her head, intent, focused, her knees knocked together, sitting on the steps outside the student union, a phone clutched to her ear. (Is it any wonder we name these things after a prisoner's cage?) I only caught a fragment--”yes, I know, but when you yell at me, I...” and then the sentence carried away by the rain. How long between those two eternities? How long?

Brian Doyle says I don't need to close here, to tie up my daily meanderings with some hard-won wisdom. I don't need to, in short, preach. I can let those two images hang together in time, drawing up story from the collective pool that rests below all of us.


dandelionfleur said...

Well written. Beautifully expressed.

Melissa said...

Thank you!