When I started this blog several years ago, among my aims was to get some practice with writing essays.
I’ve posted fewer of them in the past year for two main reasons – at nearly opposing ends of the sad/happy spectrum: a life-threatening accident of a close family member, and later being able to return to working on a book manuscript.
Now that positive milestones have been reached with both (a full recovery and a completed first draft), it seems like a good time to ask – as Emerson is said to have posed when greeting friends – “What has become clear to you since we last met?”
Thinking about how I would answer this reminded me of an essay I posted all the way back in 2015, taking off on the maxim, “Write what you know.” Turns out seven years is a nice round time period for taking a look at what has crystallized in the interim. Herewith, a few fresh observations…
…You have to go there to get there. Some writers write under almost any conditions. Others find they can only write when circumstances allow. In my case, “survival journaling” keeps me going when I can’t get to other writing. And when there finally is an opening in the mindspace for more, I usually can’t know the emotions and insights I’m about to mine until well after I get started. A rich sample topic follows…
…Ghosting may not mean what you think it means. Ghosting used to refer to deliberately ending a relationship by no longer responding to messages. It’s been broadened to apply to any unexplained dropping of contact. Depending on the role in your life of the ghoster, a wide range of emotions attends the common human experience as the ghostee. My point is that since I don’t get to know the “why,” I’m better off not filling in the blank with negative assumptions. This is useful as well for other things which may not work out, because…
…You can’t fully acknowledge your desperate desire for something without opening yourself up to the potential pain of not getting it. Not much elaboration needed, except to add that when it isn’t working out, you don’t always know if you’re at the end of it – or just in a waiting period. And while you’re in the dark about it, for who knows how long the moonlit night, it’s good to know you’re safe there because…
I could hardly believe, after all these years, that we were back in touch. Yet there it was, that cherished name from years past, on the glowing monitor before me. Jon and I had become friends lifetimes earlier. Nothing in particular had changed – other than the circumstances under which we had met. After a brief and bright few years at the same college, our association didn’t survive the normal relocations for other schools and jobs.
An observation of his back then was that friendship is largely a function of time and place. I bristled at the sentiment at the time, still of the mind that a true connection will outlast them. Occasionally it does, but far more commonly, even deeply resonant attachments dissipate when conditions shift. Long experience has me now agreeing with my old friend.
Look there, I called him “my old friend.” That remains true regardless of whether we’d have reconnected. Now that we have, it’s even sweeter to think of him that way. As for his assertion about friendship, as I’ve come to echo it I’m all the more thankful for the exceptions. It’s become clear too that it’s hard to tell at the outset; I’ve been mistaken more than once in speculating which ones will last and which might fade away.
The public library in my hometown was among my favorite buildings to visit as a little girl. Leading up to its grand entryway were smooth steps from either sidewalk direction; I can still hear the soft tss-tss-tss of my little soles landing and sliding a smidge at each rise. The opposing sets of stairs met at a platform facing the enormous doors, and the imposing limestone edifice welcomed me into its world of literary delights like a stern grandfather with a playful heart.
When I was in my teens, it was razed in favor of a new structure a few blocks away. But the destroyers left standing the great limestone facade which still adorns that block forty-plus years since, now surrounded by rejuvenated green space.
An old friend once opined that leaving the fragment behind seemed silly to him. I could not see it more differently. To me, it is a brilliant gesture of admiration for an architectural exemplar of that era, as well as a connection to childhood. The sun is always shining in my memories of those library visits, and a glimpse of the gray face still warms the little girl in me.
That thinker doesn’t look very comfortable. Leaning back in a rocker — now that’s my preferred contemplation pose, knitting needles clacking or netbook keys tapping.
Thinking about thinking, writing about writing, posing quandaries, positing solutions. That’s some of what i had in mind when i conceived of this site years ago, in particular with the Ruminations tab. To me the term has always had an agreeable association with “a reflective thinker characterized by quiet contemplation” [Free Dictionary].
For obvious linguistic reasons, i recently wondered if there could be a relationship to the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi. As fitting as that might be, the theory apparently has the lamentable disadvantage of not being rooted in fact.
I thought of it as i was considering what writing is like, and what this year has been like. Writing is gazing back and forward at the same time.
The raw material of experience and imagination forms an idea… In shaping that idea for an audience, i’m looking ahead toward how the past-birthed notion might connect with the reader. Even if i am its only reader, my future self usually takes something fresh from rereadings of past private expressions.
Personal essay writers and bloggers perpetually distinguish between the “I” and the “we” to decide which of our thoughts to impart. Two kinds of intimate writing i bristle at… Starting too many sentences with the phrase (or attitude), “We all…” Or starting too many sentences with “I” — if they end without drawing me in.
The question is, What makes any one person’s thoughts of interest to another?
Yes, i know, many of us use GPS now. But i still like to study a map at home before heading to the airport. I tend to become anxious about catching the information in time to get to the lane i need, so it calms me to have an aerial view in mind as i’m trying to follow the signs and instructions.
The idea of planning for changing lanes came to mind when i noticed the date first thing this morning. Today marks seven years since the name change which precipitated the title of this blog.
I like it when dates sneak up on me like that. This anniversary wasn’t one i’d been looking ahead toward, as i’m prone to do, hand at forehead shading my squinting eyes.
Foggy roads and grieving hearts make it hard to grasp where you are.
Fans of the brilliant songwriter John Prine will recognize an echo there with a line of his. I borrowed its framing as a tribute. (“Broken hearts and dirty windows make life difficult to see,” from Souvenirs.)
When we look back on this time at some far future point, we will each recall hallmarks large and small that most remind us of it. Events that moved us from an abstract sense of its singular seriousness to reality hitting home.
The manner in which we lost this songwriter is one such marker for me, given what he succumbed to after surviving so much else.
It says something significant about the times we’re in that readers across the globe will instantly grasp what i mean by “the times we’re in.”
Its theme was how we experience movement through time, and i said i would write a further post on the subject. Here it is…
As i noted in the earlier piece, i got to thinking about movement when i became able to return to it after a period of stagnancy and lack of control.
Movement, to put it simply, feels good.
When i think of enjoying movement, i think first of bodily motion. The visceral elation of being on a swing as a child and going as high as i could. Or the excitement of driving a fast car or being on a roller coaster. Thrilling physical motion feels as though we can almost be taken out of time for a moment.
A second notion of movement (which i focused on in the earlier post) makes me think of time passing, and why there’s a sense of satisfaction in noting our relationship to it. We like checking things off to-do lists and finding shortcuts that help us move through tasks more efficiently. When we don’t sense progress we say we are spinning our wheels or treading water — not very positive images.
A third aspect of movement has to do with our emotional experiences.
I acknowledge a subtle shift in meaning between these usages, but i think there’s a relevance between time passing and being moved in our sentiments.