A Little Thoreau and a Few Resolutions

...in his August 19, 1851 journal, H. D. Thoreau wrote, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!"

...i've been meditating on these words for quite a while...i'd first heard them roughly translated by my writing instructors as "write what you know" and "you can't write if you haven't lived"...i used to wonder about what sort of "living" my mentors had in mind, exactly...did they expect all young writers to join the circus, drive ambulances in wars, ride with mexican renegades and send covert reports from the front...i wasn't sure...but by the time i was twenty, i'd felt as if i'd lived a few different lives and i could try to write about at least one of them...

...fifteen years later, i think i can finally do justice to my first life...

...still, i think about those fifteen years: have i "stood up"?

...Thoreau's journal entry continues, "The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical wooden dull to read" and he insists writers need movement of the limbs to get the blood flowing, emphasizing the necessity for a walk to trigger the mind...

...for quite some time, i've been habitually sitting, putting words on paper again and again, and seemingly watching the world move on...i worry i've become pretty sedentary, that i won't be able to write about the years i've lived while trying to write about my first life...and while i'd like to take his words literally--and easily let myself off the hook by getting up from my desk and making a loop around the block--i have to look at them metaphorically too...a writer cannot sit in one place, in one time, continually occupying one identity, without running the risk of flat, boring work...we cannot allow ourselves to perpetually live with the mind of the person we used to be...hell, we can't even be the person we were last year (sorry, Gatsby)...we have to live, to grow, to see the world...if not by actually being there, then by at least allowing our actions to be shaped by what is going on around us...in short, Thoreau's reminding us that before we're writers, we're human beings...

...we're sentient..and without empathy we're working in vain...

...in an attempt to keep my writing relevant, my prose organic, and my thoughts new, i've composed the following resolutions...

2013 Resolutions
1. Give thanks for each sunrise, each sunset
2. Continue to feel empathy for those whose lives I've never known
3. Write a sentence everyday, no matter how small the thought
4. Never sit down in vain

Comments

  1. I love this, but...re: "a writer cannot sit in one place, in one time, continually occupying one identity, without running the risk of flat, boring work," I can't help thinking of Wendell Berry, or Emily Dickinson, or Flannery O'Connor, or Faulkner--all writers who were strongly rooted to one place yet whose work still sings. Perhaps the key here is that their empathy is so strong that they are able to speak to readers from different places, with different backgrounds, in ways that resonate with those readers?

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    1. ...i was thinking of these authors--eudora welty too--when i composed this, and yes, i was drawing on the idea that writers must not only be aware of what is going on in the world, but should be molded by it all...take faulkner, for instance...he lived most of his life in a small southern town that, while he was alive, hated him for his liberal views towards african-americans...i think because of his empathy he was able to write well...and it's for that empathy, in part, that his work is still read and seen as relevant...

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  2. I'm still mulling this over...is it empathy, or is it that to go very, very deeply into one's own place (and mind) is to discover the universal? Or are these two--empathy and love of/connection with place/mind simply the same, on some level?

    Thanks for making me think, and happy new year!

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  3. I'm also chewing on this. At an hour I can't think straight. More to come ...

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    1. ...i'm going to pretend that time stamp doesn't say nearly five in the morning...way too early (late?) to be reading my blog...

      ...glad you're chewing, but i want to add that your blog was the farthest thing from my mind when i wrote this...i actually think your blog does consider the world at large and recognizes the necessity of laughter, love, and sincerity as a part of life...

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