Pondering on Writing

Cross Street Festival, AucklandToday in Karangahape Road where I live they were having a colourful street carnival. In the throng of young people many had arm and ankle tattoos and dyed hair – red, blue, purple, yellow – and wore strange, brightly coloured clothing, body jewellery, a philosophical and fashion cult.

I was like an alien in my glaringly unadventurous clothing and drab grey shaven locks. Tonight, a free Saturday evening, I had sat down to write a few lines, perhaps capture a little of the quirky charm of it all, but only one sentence into my task I asked myself, why bother? And instead, wondering about writing itself.

On reflection I think that a good part of my own earliest impulse to write came from a melancholy at a vanishing world, that the things and people that sparkled most brightly were disappearing into oblivion. Writing preserves their warm life, plucks them from the abyss-like a child putting the miracle of a butterfly into a glass bottle, then revisiting this memento half a lifetime later to remember and ponder the topography of his life. The writing and the butterfly are ciphers and landmarks on the journey and intended only for himself.

Where feeling is strong, the writing can be alive and capture a piece of living with such fidelity, as of a mallard or a woodgrouse pressed whole between the pages of a book. The author immortalises a world much larger than his own small life, and though at its centre, celebrates only the vanishing and changing pageantry all around him. He takes in only what he sees – he or she is only a presence, a shadow, a compère revealing the world before it slips away from him with its rich bounty and all of its marvellous oddities.

But there are aspects of writing, too, other than celebration or the attempt to hoard and remember or leave self-testimony – touches of egotism and self-proclamation, confession or contrition, the wish for order, clarity and understanding or writing with one eye on immortality. Or that impulse behind the stick figures of bison and horsemen and antelope left by the ancient cave dwellers. ‘I was here, I lived and died, this is what I saw.’

Writing too is an act of sharing with those we love, and an act of love offered to those we have never met. It can be an exaltation or an exultation; a great cry of the heart; a primal impulse to make contact. It has something in it too, of the motive behind the ‘sounds and images of earth’ capsules fired out into deep space, a potpourri of our planet’s livingness, it’s astonishing and glorious and awful history, drifting out there in the cold black reaches of the universe to communicate, tell others that we are here. ‘Can you hear us?’

The writer, too, sends these signals out, seeking an empathetic heart with whom to commune and complement his or her emptiness and yearnings. An existential loneliness, crying out into the great interstellar void for solace and company and understanding.

In our more heartfelt writing we perhaps do the same, our words the ochreous cave sketches of our ancestors, reaching out past our life and death to some union or communion that is not easily understood. The artist’s legacy survives long after his brief life – what he conveys, the glimpses of what he felt and was, communicate and touch other’s sensibilities in a continuum. Thus the 10,000-year-old imprint of the human hand on an ancient cliff face fascinates us. We place our hand over theirs, over the pigmented fingers and palm of one who roamed here in distant millennia; dream of long ago, feel the whisper of eternity and the chill breath of our own mortality, the stirring of ineluctable questions so often concealed for their starkness.

But writing too is an expression of our jubilation and delight, as simple as the sap rising up into the tree and producing all of its lovely fruits and flowers. Each poem, song, an outpouring and flowering of spirit, simple and pure, requiring no need of analysis or understanding, no audience or listener or appreciation and as inevitable and easy as an incoming tide.

"Art is the outer vesture of love," writes Sri Chinmoy. "Art, like love, is a force of oneness with the infinite. When we create a piece of art, we are really re-creating or reflecting some beauty of the Infinite."

Hello, is anybody out there?

– Jogyata.