A contended mind enlargeth the dimension of little things. — Sir Thomas Browne
If one wishes to someday be an avid writer, the last thing he ought to do is aspire to be a mere writer. Let me explain by way of example. Roughly three years ago, I first realized the truth of this paradox. I was in a room with six or seven other literary-minded folk, and a professor. I remember not the point, nor many details of the activity but that each student was to quickly jot down a potential occupation we wanted. In my literary-minded spirit, I wrote down the occupation of a writer, while a colleague wrote that of a juggler. Now, never mind that he probably had little to no inclination of actually becoming a juggler. Never mind that he would probably make a very poor juggler. Mind that a story about a man juggling poorly is certainly more fascinating than one about a man writing, even a man writing very well. There is a very real reason why men pay to see jugglers juggle and why no man — not even my scribe — would pay to watch me pen this post. It is the same reason why few books have bookworms for protagonists and those that do do not subject us to watching them read. In fact, the bookworms in books usually literally end up in their books, which themselves have nothing to do with bookworms. In any of the world’s finest novels — Crime and Punishment, The Pickwick Papers — men are not lounging around reading books. They are out murdering old women or erroneously placed in debtor’s prisons.
Just this past week, I was faced with a similar dilemma. I sat alone at my place of residence, The Ole Midshipman, reading a fine novel by Kipling. Yet I was rather restless. There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to do something, and something that morning had to be done. If all one does is read, he never ends up like the men he readers about. He never rides on the backs of panthers like Mowgli. So, I grabbed my smoking-bowl, as Kipling would probably call it, and I headed for the river. I was rather under-dressed, for the winter winds produced a chill that pierced the marrow. Now, as I aimless sauntered by the waters, I kept a fresh eye out for a nice place to begin my smoke. The clouds that day were a light gray that seeped through the leafless trees, and upon hitting the waters, did not bounce as the sun does but rather folded into the already brown waters. Gray skies hitting water die quickly, and the only other colors signifying any life were the evergreens and pines across the way. I could not help but notice, however, their green seemed faded, if not by the cold than by the harsh winds.
I too was fading in the cold as I stood by the banks with one bony hand clutching my bowl and the other thrust into my pocket. I scoured the shore and decided to maneuver myself over to a nearby tree. The tree was one of those interesting sights with the bulk of it over-hanging the lazy river and its lower trunk creating a chair-like little nook. It was no easy feat making my way over to the tree, for I am a scholar, and I had to hoist my limbs across branches while artfully balancing the smoking-bowl between the teeth and keeping it lit. Nevertheless, I managed, and i was pleased, for the tree offered some relief from the wind. And thus I sat and pondered, and it occurred to me that though I was rather alone, God may not have meant “solitude is bad” when he said it isn’t good for man to be alone. I think there is something of sanctification and holiness in solitude.
Now, if I was to have a companion that day, I would choose someone who could explain to me the mysteries of the wild. For any faithful follower of these ambles well knows I have little notion about nature. And if I have learned anything this past year, it is that writing well on subjects you are ignorant of is altogether difficult and often painful for the audience. But that is the whole point of this post. I sat with my back to a tree I couldn’t identify (I believe it was an oak), hoping to see a water-snake I couldn’t name. I mused at some carvings in the trunk of another tree, but couldn’t tell a soul how they got there. I listened to birds who would not tell me their story. Yet in all this, I sat contented (but for the increasing cold). And I was contented because, perhaps for the first time since I became an avid reader, I realized I was beginning to understand the true nature of becoming an avid writer. And that is to stop wishing to “be a writer.” It is to be a human and then write about it. That is, one man writes because he likes toe idea of being a writer. Another writes because he sees something of the world he lives in that harkens to something outside. One man need make an adventure and then write about. Another man lives in a perpetual adventure and cannot help but write about it. The first man is too busy trying to fit heaven into earth. The second sees that the world contains multiple clues about heaven. The ambles of this past year have taught me that even the dullest of the dull days is a small whisper from the other side of eternity.
Much of the modern problem with reading and writing classrooms is that everything is inward focused. Students may as well write about themselves and read themselves into books, they say, than to not read or write at all. You may as well tell a blind man that staring into a mirror for eternity is better than being blind. The truth is that a blind man sees further than many an American student today. And the trouble is, moreover, that if students do nothing but write about themselves, they never learn to write about anything outside themselves. The trouble is that writing is, for many, a way of escape just as is reading. It is a mighty attempt, and one often failed, to make the personal ventures of one’s everyday life exciting and relevant to an outside audience.
Thus, I sat there lazily like a modern-day Huck Finn, smoking my pipe and aimlessly musing. Eventually, the wind became too much, and I ambled my way back to my car, continuing to smoke, and I gazed at the solemn trees full of humming birds. To my left, the cornfields were perfectly shorn, displaying their calculated rows. Likewise, the trees were stripped for all to see the inner-workings of their limbs. I think back now that even the natural cycle of life, the death of a tree, has a breadth of eternity in it. And that is what this week reminds us of — the end of the year forcefully proclaims the end of a cycle. This week forces us to reflect on that cycle, to reflect on whether it wants changing or meaning. I say, though, that the face that it is a cycle is quite obviously evidence for meaning. I say, one might be perplexed (and a little depressed) to find a random ambler in his inbox one day. I say, that man might begin reading, and if he hated it, leave it and go on his merry way, forgetting the thing ever occurred. But I say, if the poor chap came back for the next forty-five weeks or so and discovered all thirty-six, he may begin to believe some ghostly spirit had it out for him. Well, I say, he may be depressed to hear that the cycle won’t change. The ambles will continue. Though perhaps, it will be of some comfort for him to know that that ghostly spirit is always working toward being less of a writer and more of an ambler.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written with a common pen,
December 26, 2014
Transcribed by the Author,
Longing for the return of Adam,
December 30, 2014
Painting: “A Little Boy Writing”
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Oil on canvas, n.d.