Beyond the ear there is a sound, at the far end of sight there is a view, at the tips of the fingers an object—that’s where I’m going.
At the tip of the pencil the line.
Where a thought expires is an idea, at the final breath of joy another joy, at the point of the sword magic—that’s where I’m going.
– Clarice Lispector, “That’s Where I’m Going”
Today is the second anniversary of the rather haphazard and ill-defined birth of roughghosts. The evolution of this space that I tend has far exceeded my expectations. When I look back at my very first post, a quick note to self, I talk about having long put aside the desire to write so as to live a little first, acknowledging that life had given me more material than I was comfortable addressing–a theme I’ve revisited since. My first year of blogging saw a collection of random observations and occasional book related posts develop into increasingly structured book reviews interspersed with the occasional reflective essay. Looking ahead to my second year I had hoped to broaden my reading while privately I was more actively playing with ideas that I hoped would eventually lead to a serious creative effort of some measure. But as much as I had been filling notebooks, I was writing more about wanting to write as if wishing could make it so, rather than believing that I would ever offer something beyond the confines of this blog.
For me, my blog, no matter how seriously I consider every word I offer here, no matter how many hours I spend constructing essays or reviews, has always been a twilight place. It belongs to neither the day nor the night but sits at the intersection of the two: a place where I can imagine that I am not quite exposed to the full light of day, a place where the darkest truths remain unspoken. For that is the realm of real writing and what am I, editing my efforts and posting them myself, but pretending to the art?
I know, of course, that this is not true.
The past twelve months have changed everything, and in more ways than I might ever have imagined.
Writing is the conscious attempt by the human to participate in his fate, that ‘story’ written from birth to death. Casting spells, exorcising, whistling in the dark, inventing the textures and structures of consciousness, keeping a backdoor open to memory, getting to know who or what we are, both reflecting what is and shaping the new. Memory is nothing but dead time, but death seeds the soil: from forgetting new shapes sprout. . .
For writing is a means to transformation: using words and their interacting combinations—the meanings, the feel, the sounds and the shadows—to broaden our scope of apprehending and understanding ourselves and others, and in the process creating new spaces and references. Sometimes looking down into hell.
– Breyten Breytenbach, Intimate Stranger
Last year, on July 7 to be exact, with the majestic Table Mountain rising in the background, I started to write the essay I had been toying with for over a year. It was my last full day in South Africa and looking back over the preceding year I envisioned this grand narrative that would guide my writing, shape the story I wanted to tell. On July 27 a pulmonary embolism caused me to go into cardiac arrest. I stared into the abyss, metaphorically speaking, that is, because I have no memory of the event or of the days immediately before or after, but I do know that if my son had not been home that night I would not be here.
And I know that every idle word to page before that moment was precious more than wishful scribbling. To write, honestly and openly, was now critical.
My path from the confines of my blog to the publication of my first piece of essay/memoir writing earlier this month has been quite remarkable. Doors have opened, starting with Douglas Glover at Numéro Cinq where I am proud to be on the masthead. I have since published reviews for several other sites or publications and have more forthcoming, and I have another piece of creative writing that will be in the Seagull Books Catalogue this fall. It does mean that my attention is necessarily diverted from my blog at times but I will link to new pieces as they appear and have created a page of links to outside writing. I never would have dared to dream that I would need such a page at this time last year. Nor did I imagine that I would now call myself a writer.
I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the challenge of writing longer critical reviews. To read and engage with a text at a deeper level opens an entirely new appreciation of language and literature. It fuels and, I hope, enhances my own ability to write. And over the past year I have been fortunate to become acquainted with some truly gifted thinkers and writers who inspire and encourage me, as well as building stronger intellectual and readerly camaraderie with fellow bloggers.
I don’t know where fiction is born, but I am certain that the best essay/memoir writing does not have its roots on our brightest days. Rather, it emerges from the shadows, when we are wounded, grieving, shaken to the core. We write to make sense of pain, of confusion, of loss. We write out of the darkness toward the light. We write in the in-between spaces—daybreak, twilight—find the patterns, themes, edit, shape, refine and edit again, careful to leave room for tension, friction, the beating heart.
And, of course, we write because we have to.
Here’s to a new year, so to speak.