Writing to Expand the Self

December 2nd, 2011 by Editor B

Blurred Reflection of a Dream

I promised to write about my three regular practices: meditation, baking, and writing. The last topic should be the easiest to address. I’ve been doing it the longest, and I feel as if I understand it somewhat.

And yet: Surely it’s foolish to write about writing. Hasn’t it all been said, or written, before?

Come to Think of It

When I was very young, I think I wanted to be a fireman and a garbage collector at various stages. Those are apparently common aspirational points for little boys.

As an adult, the only thing I’ve ever opened my mouth to say I wanted to “be” was a writer.

In fact, I have been writing, and writing, and writing for much of my life.

Yet I’ve scrupled to call myself a writer, because I’m self-published. I still remember the shock I felt when someone introduced me as a writer. And why not? She knew me primarily through my writing.

The vast bulk of my writing in recent years has been here, on this self-published website. I’ve dismissed this as “just a blog,” dismissed myself as “just a blogger.”

At some point over the past summer, I realized I was doing myself a huge disservice. I shouldn’t dismiss something that’s so important to who I am. The act of writing regularly has shaped my life.

It’s a transformative art. At the end of writing something, I’m a different person than when I began. The depth of change depends on the depth of the writing.

Released into the world, words can extend their power. Often they vanish, but occasionally they catch fire. Sometimes I get burned — my words come back to haunt me. But sometimes they open new opportunities. Sometimes they conjure portals.

I resolved, then, to take my writing more seriously.

Word Games

For the most part, I’ve stopped using the word “blogging” to describe this. I’ve stopped calling myself a blogger, except where there’s some strategic advantage. And, indeed, there are times when some advantage may accrue to identifying as a blogger, chiefly when joining with others who are working in the same medium. Strength in numbers, y’know.

The word “blog” is ungainly, even ugly. It has a kind of grotesque feel coming out the mouth. It’s the sound one makes before barfing.

So I accord myself a modicum of respect and call myself a writer. That’s not hubris. I’m not calling myself a good writer. But I am one who writes, and that’s all it means. Graffiti taggers call themselves writers too.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that for the last seven years most of the words I’ve written have appeared on this site, this web log, this blog.

The deeper issue is self-publishing. It’s great to have this freedom, but most of my favorite authors published through others. They engaged that editorial filter with glorious results. I’ve never even submitted a manuscript to a publishing venue. I’ve resolved to do so this school year. More on that later. For now I want to focus on what I’m doing here, on this site.

Frequency and Scope

I’ve kept a journal, off and on, since childhood, long before I wrote my first entry here. It’s a fine process for personal development. It’s listed on the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

For years I’ve aimed to write on this site daily, just as I would hope to do in a private journal or diary. I often fail, but that’s the guiding rhythm. It would be difficult to overstate the general effect of this rhythm on my consciousness, on my sense of identity.

So: If I change the rhythm of my writing, I change the rhythm of my life. For the last few months I’ve been aiming to write here weekly, more or less. This has given me time to mull my topics over, and to engage in a process of revision and expansion that lasts over several days. Some of the results, at least, should be obvious. I’ve been writing longer pieces. Too long perhaps.

In my daily rhythm, I tended to adopt a narrow scope, looking at just one incident or idea and riffing on that. Breaking life into little fragments like that was fine, but lately I’ve been wondering about the whole. I’ve been wanting to attend the endless interconnections.

I am trying to deepen my writing, to strengthen it, and to integrate the diverse aspects of my life through this process.

Problems

There are some problems with this approach, for the reader at least. I’m ending up with slabs of a thousand words, or maybe two thousand. They seem to make a coherent whole to me, but they may look like impenetrable thickets from the outside. In other words, my readership may be suffering. I’m sorry about that, and I am making an effort to exercise restraint, to write concisely. Unfortunately I am not succeeding quite yet.

Also, in trying to take writing more seriously, it may become too serious. Turgid. Dry. Boring, sanctimonious, presumptuous, arrogant, and self-important. I have some tendency toward all these traits, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see that reflected in my writing. It’s my dour Nordic heritage asserting itself, perhaps.

Mechanisms

It’s great to “begin with the end in mind.” However, that’s not always possible with truly transformational processes. When you wrestle with angels there are unforeseen consequences.

How does it work? Writing constructs reality. Words have a power, when uttered, when written. In some sense all language is a lie. But also, words can become truth, overwhelming weak reality. “We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges.” (Props if you can identify that quote.) By writing I’m creating the myth of myself.

But there’s another way in which writing is transformational, more mundane but just as profound. In a word: research. For example, I encountered ideas about emergence as I wrote an account of what’s been going on in my life lately. Through these investigations I found my soul. One could say that writing is my religion.

Such are the fruits of the project I’m setting for myself.

6 Responses to “Writing to Expand the Self”

  1. Marco Says:

    Well put, Bart. Your writing style is clear and concise. It shows a degree of clarity of thought. This is why I read you. Other reasons are your spirituality combined with a sense of humor.

    Thanks to the Google, quotes are no longer hard to track down. “The Book of the New Sun” which sounds interesting.

    That goes for trivia too in the Googled Age.
    Interesting etymology:

    “Trivia in Roman mythology was the goddess who “haunted crossroads, graveyards, and was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, she wandered about at night and was seen only by the barking of dogs who told of her approach.”[1] She was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, the three-way crossroads and the harvest moon.[2] She was an underworld Titan-goddess who assisted Jove in the Titanomachy and was therefore able to keep her powers. She was a friend of Ceres and helped her to find her daughter Proserpina. As a part of her role as an underworld goddess, she was known as the Queen of Ghosts. Although she helped Ceres to find her daughter, she was also known to steal young maidens and to assist her in her powers. These women later became nymphs.”

  2. Editor B Says:

    Hm, maybe I should have said “no searching the net” — but then you might not have been turned on to The Book of the New Sun, which I highly recommended, and I would not have learned the origin of trivia. I’m a sucker for etymology, and the connection to Persephone is most unexpected. Thanks.

  3. B. T. Newberg Says:

    It sounds like you and I have a lot of the same aspirations (and inhibitions!). I had a tough time keeping my posts to readable length as well (check out some of the earliest stuff on HP – super long!). I still struggle to keep it to the ideal 700 words I’ve set for myself. So far, things that have helped me let go are 1) writing to some extent for other people instead of primarily for myself, 2) seeing the relative success of a friend’s blog posts when he was much more concise, and 3) realizing that people generally read for provocative ideas while minute details can be saved for targeted discussions in the comments of the post. My two cents. :-)

  4. Martin Says:

    I write; mostly for myself, and also to discover how the characters in the stories that come up resolve their issues, but I don’t blog.

    Although I’ve thought about starting a blog I’m aware that doing so would suck time and motivation from the other writing and that most of what I might put into words online has been, or will be, better said by someone else.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog Ed. B and sharing your insights just as you present them. And I agree with Mr. Newberg’s point #3 – one needn’t cover every detail in the body of the essay.

  5. chrissieroux Says:

    Good stuff, Bart. The only thing I think I ever wanted to be was a writer–though for me, the process of psychotherapy is similar in so many ways to the writing process: a narrative is constructed, meaning is (hopefully, sometimes) found in what was once a nebulous or even distressing cluster of ideas.

    I also agree about the term “blog.” I hate it! Just the other day someone mentioned to me that they remembered that I had “blogged” about something and I really wanted to ask them to use the term “written” but thought that might sound too pretentious. It’s an ugly term.

  6. Marco Says:

    Bart, I should add that your writing shows more than a degree of clarity of thought. Blog post is just another word for diary entry. It’s the writing that’s important.

    “The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.”
    Grace Paley

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