Recently Valarie wrote a weblog post that got me very inspired but also, for a time, questioning my own way of writing. I hesitate to paraphrase her piece too much, but it was called “Language Barrier” and related Valarie’s developing outlook towards death and afterlife relate to both her love of language and her suspicion that words aren’t sometimes adequate to express her most fundamental ideas and emotions. Along the way, she referenced performance art, Oasis, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Goldsworthy, Kierkegaard, and an out-of-print book on running.
I saw Valarie preparing to write this piece over the past weeks, if not months. There were Post-It notes affixed to book pages, saved programs from museum visits and festivals, and many sessions at the computer.
When I have an idea swirling around in my mind, on the other hand, it often feels like a firefly whose light will only be around for a short time. I want to capture that idea and commit it to words as quickly as I can, before it's gone. So if I get a blog idea, I basically write it down and feverishly upload it, as though it's the cure for cancer or a hot stock top. The problem, though, is that virtually everything I write here is essentially a first draft. Yet I know from experience that all my best writing has been poured over and fine-tuned numerous times.
Actually, while thinking about my own writing process compared to Valarie's, I was most encouraged by something to do with photography. Two years ago, when I had a gallery show of my pictures, critic D.K. Row wrote a review in The Oregonian describing how I applied a “localized scrutiny one gives to headshots or portraits” in my capturing small details of place. (One photograph from the show, for example, is a closeup of shreds of paint and paper from hundreds of advertisements stapled to a telephone pole. But it's hard to tell exactly what you're looking at, and that was a very conscious move.) “The up-close and personal perspective,” Row continued, “seems to cut them off from the larger streets, buildings and spaces they inhabit.”
I think much of the personal writing I do has this same manner of "localized scrutiny", whether it's applied to Cool Whip, experimental cinema or Oregon Ducks football. Somehow, I seem to be able to make sense of things by taking them out of context. Or more accurately, it's that I tend to focus in so tightly that context takes a back door. I feel like I’m casting a spotlight on my subjects, and I like the fact that many of them are more mundane ones. As Forest Whitaker's character says in the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, "Matters of great importance should be taken lightly. Matters of small importance should be taken very seriously." Or maybe I've just watched too much Seinfeld.
But somehow this all brings me full-circle to that "Language Barrier" post. Ultimately Valarie resolves "...to keep working with the tools I have, and the language I already know, to articulate myself as best I can." That's all anyone can ask of themself. And I think understanding your own limitations can be oddly liberating.