I recently came across this quote from the writer Joy Williams: “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.”
I love that last part, about fumbling about in the light. I always feel like this when I write, like I’m blinkered, and it has to be so, and yet I also need to receive light to illuminate the manuscript I’m working on.
And now at the risk of sounding like a dabbler with his hands in a magician’s hat, I do think that there is a sort of magic to writing. For seconds, for hours, for days, for weeks, for months, for years, I sit with one self in the world of things and one self in the world of phantoms. It’s like I’m living in the perpetual strike of midnight and words are the only way to stay the hands of time from moving me on. Words that spin out of me and then at some point will be read by another person. It’s like I bounce a ball and then that bouncing ball migrates inside a reader and it’s strangely the same ball I imagined, although maybe it weighs a little different and it’s paler or brighter, but the bounce is still the same in a reader’s mind.
That bounce. To conquer with a bounce. To seduce with a bounce. A bounce I just made up. But a bounce we all can recognize. Maybe that is art: a bounce that makes its way through eternity always one step ahead of us all.
Maybe that is why I never feel completely nourished or pleased or satisfied with anything I write. The bounce just wasn’t high enough. But how can it be? The work always shuns, accepts, but shuns. Pushes you out, the self-conscious you who seems to know what’s what. But I don’t know. I’m always panting after the ball. And the pant I do alone at night in confusion, in hope, an awkward flapping after flapping after flapping only to discover nothing that’s left rises off the page and delights. And so back I go, forcing myself forward for hours, crawling dumb and stupid like a caterpillar, munching my way through words, knowing I serve something greater or else get devoured by something rapacious and alarmingly close.
It’s not always like this, though. There are times when the writing is goal after goal after goal and the crowd is jubilant and a sweeping cloud of birds rises and falls and the sun shimmers in every blade of grass and the referee is crucified on the goalposts. I’m having a good writing day and I can feel the shape of the story and I’m tinkering with sentences as I move forwards and backwards. But this happens in the din and wreck of a moment and then the shark’s fin cuts the surface of the trance and ploughs towards you.
I think it was Joy Williams who wrote that language feeds off writers. Who else could it turn to? It needs someone to give it life, make it perform, make it just a bit better than it wished it could be. And when a writer fails, then words gather even more gravity around him, force their way in, take bigger bites, devour whole. And just then, at that aperture of wisdom, a writer knows he can succeed. But in a blink of a pinprick of light, he suddenly realizes he is the dark matter at the heart of words, trying one word at a time to illuminate not just himself, but the whole world.
A writer fumbles in the light and stumbles ever closer to the dark.