Well, I guess bearing witness seems pretty important. I was there, I am here, I’m hearing or seeing XYZ — writing doesn’t really get much more meaningful than that.
Seeing how it all fits together is important to me, too. Writing isn’t just a matter of communicating ideas I already have; if it were, I’d have grown tired of it a long time ago. It’s about discovery.
Peace-making matters. In grade school, we used to respond to insults with sing-song nonsense: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” As if by saying it, we could make it so — which, given the incredible power of language to hurt or to heal, we sometimes could. It’s funny, though. You’d think writers, of all people, would’ve learned this lesson well, but often we’re the most careless, launching witty character-assassinations and flinging maledictions about with wild abandon. Witness the legendary bad-boy behavior of many famous writers — or the endless flame-wars of the blogosphere. It’s easy to get drunk on power, I guess, even if it’s “only” the power of a well-turned phrase. So I think those of us who cherish dialogue and conversation as an integral part of our writing practice need to work especially hard to avoid conflict and promote harmony. I’m not saying I’ve always excelled at this myself, but I have (eventually) repented of my lapses and tried to learn from them.
Empathy matters to me, and both in my reading and in my writing I tend to seek out poems that take me inside the mind of another. “The world’s selves cure that short disease, myself,” as the poet Randall Jarrell once put it.* Love and joy matter. And we need a word for that quiet kind of joy — almost the opposite of passion — that comes from a mind fully engaged in what it does best. Some people find it in organizing things, or hanging drywall, or programming computers. I happen to find it in writing.
Thus, at any rate, the suggestions that arise from these latest photos: this morning’s exercise in seeing. Because the world always does come first for me. The older I get, the more I distrust abstract theorizing and language full of modular, corn-fed words like “enhance” and “utilize” and “environment”; tell me you want to improve or use the land and I’ll start paying attention. The best ideas come from contact, physical contact with the real world. Those of us who spend many hours a day staring at computer screens forget that at our peril. Matter matters!
*A quote I used as an epigraph for the third section of Shadow Cabinet, “Masque.”