Simple Words

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (1958)dharma bums.jpg

 

From Barnes & Noble page “Published just one year after On the Road, (Dharma Bums) is the story of two men engaged in a passionate search for Dharma or truth.

Their major adventure is the pursuit of the Zen Way, which takes them climbing into the High Sierras to seek the lesson of solitude.” (It’s suggested that one read On the Road first for proper context to this novel which could be considered Part 2 of the first one.)Kerouac.jpg

If you haven’t yet read either of his novels, you may have studied Jack Kerouac’s influence on modern literature, as well as his documented pursuit of spiritual clarity for himself and for others.

For those who wish to glean techniques from other writer’s talents, assessing Kerouac’s rawness and meaning refinement throughKer quote 2 (2) simple-living description is a solid path for a writer’s own self-discovery and inner-world exploration.

It follows the most important writer’s dictum: Keep it simple, clear and concise.

Using Kerouac’s poetic example in The Dharma Bums, his theory on “good writing” is being as artistically precise as a Japanese Haiku.

Because both books were written at the rise of the Beat generation that preceded the Flower Child (Hippy) generation, there are rough attitudes expressed that might appall a sensitive reader.  But Kerouac’s vision and the handling of his subject matter are a study in distilling thought to poetically capture and convey life’s most precious moments.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple,” he said.

I agree. That statement is my primary creed as well.

Writing is a communication between/among two or more “readers” to share thoughts, concepts, or instructions.

Writing can convey emotions over a distance—where deepest feelings are often captured best in similes and metaphors because those appeal more to the intuitive right brain than the analytical left. That’s the value of Haiku—it bridges the brain hemispheres between word symbols and emotive imagery.basho quote

Haiku is thought essence crystallized.

As Kerouac suggested in The Dharma Bums, if you want to capture the power or beauty of a moment use a Haiku to transcend earthly limitation.

But it also requires artistic discipline to craft the proper phrase, while utilizing a writer’s higher resonance with the subject matter.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

Yes.

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A Little Sunday Morning RUMI…

rumi.jpg

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

~Rumi

The Creative Writing Process

pro write.pngBackground info dump: Among my many careers, I’ve taught Technical Writing at the community college level. I know the nuts and bolts of teaching students to communicate their thoughts and feelings—specifically like how to package those thoughts within a structured, cohesive report meant to convey a clear message for their intended audience, while doing so within the confines of grammatical expertise.

That last sentence is why I am no longer teaching Technical Writing.

Technical Writing is purposeful but restrictive—structured but confining; and while skilled, technical proficiency is useful at getting your point across, especially in the business environment, it can also be creatively stifling to a writer. That’s why I truly admire and celebrate a gifted writer—I know how hard it is to write effortlessly—it requires tremendous self-awareness on multiple levels.

As both a writing teacher and a writer myself, I also know that how I actually write, you cannot teach. You simply have to DO.

Were I teaching Creative Writing to students I would explain only my own inner process: that when I sit down to write it’s usually because I feel a desire to say something, but I may not consciously know what that something is because the simple desire-to-express is the primary driving force within me.message.jpg

I may not even have a particular message to convey as I am often surprised at what comes out on the page—surprised because I had not realized that on another level of consciousness I had seriously dissected the subject matter.

My here-and-now conscious mind may only be aware that there is some nugget of truth that desires further exposition, so I grab that truth-nugget and run with it.  It might be some tangent of my personal take on life that has burned an escape-hole outward to free itself from my being.

So I give it the freedom to dash and weave, to leap the fallen tree and climb the gnarly hill. gnarly hill.jpgIt can choose the escape path it wishes without restrictions. I cheer it on saying, “Go where you need to go—say what you need to say—I’ll just go along and chart the territory that you cover.”

Then when it appears that the escapee is winded and needing to rest a bit, I review the path covered to straighten out the zig-zags and eliminate the missteps. The message always goes where it needs to go—to feel FREE—to breathe the fresh air of non-confinement, to feel the blood racing through the body.

And when “the message” is free, I actually feel a pressure release within me knowing that some higher aspect of me just communicated its thoughts using me as its medium. I say this because the desire to say something that I once felt has dissipated. What needed to be written, was.

For me there is no judging the message that escaped my being—a message whose path I charted on the page before me. But there is a choice I make in whether I share that message with others. That is MY decision to make—the writer of the words you read.

journal.jpgMy suggestion to other writers who are still developing their skills and voice is to write daily: journal—do free-association rambles—whatever thoughts are scrambling your head, get them out—let them all flow where they need to go; and in the process of logging all that verbal dysentery you will grow more comfortable with yourself.  It will help you understand WHO you truly are and WHAT you really want from your life.

After a few years of doing this you’ll develop quicker methods of getting to the point, you’ll slip into more natural similes and metaphors, and your vision will clear to better see the world in your own unique way.

The last main point I wish to emphasize is that if you really want to write in multilevel prose, you have to strengthen your connection to your Higher Self to transcend your limitations of contextual meaning.

So aspiring writers, if you really want to write, then WRITE.high self.jpg

But if you want to be a writer with a message that resonates, you need to strengthen your higher connections.

When you can simply allow your Higher Self to speak through you without translating its message, your writing will be more powerful, more impactful, and a lot less work.

Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy.jpgI don’t just love a good book. I really love a good writer because writing is both a skill and an artform.

In today’s world there are a few masterful wordsmiths who can not only turn a memorable phrase, but who can fully immerse you into their illuminating narrative. Those are the ones I applaud and whose talents I honor when I blog about them.

book.gifAgain while browsing the NEW BOOK section of the library, I ran across Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. Amazing! It’s subtle, distinct, but covertly deep as the Mariana Trench.

Tom McCarthy is definitely a “Writer’s writer”—one who electrifies the mundane with rich philosophical underpinnings masked by dry British understatement.

Without a doubt, LIFE is truly metaphor—and McCarthy’s every word becomes your symbolic stepping stone from banality to profundity, amassed under the guise of simplistic reporting of daily life around him—assessing the journey from here to there and back again.

His main character in this novel is called “U”—no name, just “U”. You got that, right? U is YOU, not directly of course, but by inference and association. He’s very Ericksonian (as in Milton—the great hypnotherapist). And his boss’s name is Peyman (yes, “pay-man”). I laughed when I finally got that.

Here’s a quote from the book cover about the novel’s contents: …”U., a ‘corporate oil slick.jpganthropologist,’ is tasked with writing the Great Report, an all-encompassing ethnographic document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions, willing them to coalesce into symbols that can be translated into some kind of account that makes sense….In Satin Island, Tom McCarthy captures—as only he can—the way we experience our world, our efforts to find meaning (or just to stay awake) and discern the narratives we think of as our lives.”

It’s not an adventure novel—unless your adventure lies primarily in finding meaning from all aspects of your life. He starts with U sitting in Turin, Italy—or more appropriately in the Torino-Caselle airport waiting for a plane home. First sentence is this: “Turin is where the famous shroud isShroud.jpg from, the one showing Christ’s body supine after crucifixion….”

A few sentences later he tells how the Shroud of Turin myth was debunked by carbon-dating, then says, “But that didn’t trouble the believers. Things like that never do. People need foundation myths, some imprint of year zero, a bolt that secures the scaffolding that in turn holds fast the entire architecture of reality, of time… We see things shroudedly, as through a veil, an over-pixellated screen.”

And that’s the gist of his novel: he works for a corporation that makes its living selling a narrative of what contemporary life means so that other corporations can profit from the data in some way (while obscuring the actual ecological damages being done to the planet).

His boss, Peyman, makes a living selling “narratives”—does that mean the narrative is truth or simply whatever Peyman is selling? U asks himself that question.

Overall, McCarthy’s descriptions are kinetic and animated— by the 3rd page into the book I had grabbed my pencil to tag descriptive sentences. One of my favorites involved snoop“double-bumping over a railroad track.”

Will this novel be the book for everyone? Probably not. But for fellow writers who blushingly marvel at a colleague’s writing skills, there is much to admire about Tom McCarthy.

Memorable Reads

There are spells when I’m a voracious reader. Every two weeks or so I’ve been going to the library—which is really an excellent library with continual supplies of NEW books, both Fiction and Non.

What I’ve noticed is that lately there are some fine quality Fiction books (as well as Non-Fiction—which are usually coleridgemy favorites) available; and then there are some, how shall I say it, less than well-written books with flashier covers and more provocative lead lines. Those tend to be more melodramatic and trite, and unfortunately, they are quite predictable by mid-story.

As a writer myself, I can admire and marvel at a writer’s skill in not only telling a story, but I also like to note the techniques used to create that story’s setting, how the main subjects’ character traits are defined, and how the author handles the passage of time.

Skilled writers are masters of the subtle details hidden between the covers. They can be tricky—like a sleight of hand artist palming a lesser card mid-deal and replacing it with an ace. A flick of the wrist and an unsuspecting eye could miss a persuasive key stroke.

There is far more to a quality novel than just rolling out a somewhat believable plot. Voice, tone, and tempo are all important factors to how a story is told. It’s a lot like that slogan “Destination is not what is important in life—it is the journey along the way.”

readerA good writer can make it a revelatory journey—show you the terrain—the winding curves, the bumps and potholes, the vegetation massed along the side—help you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with your tour guides who are describing scenes, and allow YOU to form your own opinions on what is really occurring in those faux interactions and situations where the main characters are challenged by extreme emotions or passions.

Ensconced in the telling, you even become the helpless witness when they eventually succumb to their own character flaws, allowing the story to play out like a true Greek tragedy—rich in pathos.

So I want to mention that reading-material wise, I was very impressed with The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson. the affinitiesIt is a bit Sci-Fi but not a far stretch for the possible future of social and cultural evolution where emotional attachments and character tendencies become group-based behavioral classifications. The book is more so a group character study (philosophical and psychological) than action-based, but it is so well-written that I will read it again just to take notes on how Wilson transitioned characters, defined settings, and massaged the passage of time.

Another good book (non-fiction that reads like fiction) is A Death on Diamond Mountain: A death on diamondTrue Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, by Scott Carney, which is a masterful telling of truth and hard-gathered facts as if they were unfolding before you. An investigative journalist allows us to see behind the smoking mirrors of a popularized religion.

So how can you tell good writing from mediocre tries at such?

Good writing is easily distinguished from lesser attempts because it is effortless to read and yet deeply satisfying in effect—a bit like a spicy-hot Italian Sausage Pizza that lingers on your palate long after the meal is done.

Every after-burp is a reminder of its potency on your very being.