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I’m reading The Sportswriter this week by Richard Ford. It’s part of his Frank Bascombe trilogy; the next in the series is Independence Day, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. I tell you this so that you might think more of the quotation from Ford below. Awards have meaning in today’s society. Maybe any society. Maybe any meaning.

A reviewer of one of Ford’s novels said Ford wasn’t “taking sufficient advantage of his wider sympathies and humor.” Here’s how Ford responded:

RichardFord in canoe

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It was one of the most significant things I’d ever read about something I’d written…I realized I should be writing books that try to exploit as much as possible what of value I am as a human being, without having to be about me.

Wow. That struck a number of cords in me, especially the bit about trying to access and exploit what we have of value inside ourselves without the work that springs from it being specifically about us.

Of course, Richard Ford is talking about the books he writes, the themes he develops, the values the asserts. But it seems to me that what he says applies to so many things I’ve been struggling with lately and which many of the people I know and millions more I don’t know seemed to be mired in. Namely: Who are we? What do we value? How can we be what we are in the world at large?

who you really areAs I grow older (not old yet don’t say it, simply older), I feel as if I’ve drifted from what I remember myself to be. Yet…I’m not sure about that. Was I really other than who I am now? Or does my memory fail me? And if I am different, isn’t that just a consequence of maturing? How can I be sure of who I once was?

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I’m referring specifically to mental distances from a time in the past. I’m thinking about emotional filters we deploy (or are deployed by themselves) that dim the bright lights of today’s experiences. I’m referring to (for lack of a better term) a kind of callousness, an accretion of some kind that the years deposit, layer by layer, clouding the wonder before us.

How can we get back the clarity of an earlier time?

I think Ford has the answer — we have to first access what is of value inside us and then find a way to externalize it without letting our ego obscure it from others.

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I’m reminded of that great line from the song Building A Mystery by Sarah McLachlan. She asks her ego-saturated lover/friend if he can even “look out the window without his shadow getting in the way”!

So, I’m going to be looking deeply inside my head for the person I am/was/will be and plotting to find a way to access the intrinsic values that make up me. It’s an ongoing search, I’m sure, that is renewed with each attempt to find the art in yourself and to find yourself in your art.

It’s not any different from finding yourself in your life…and making that life fully accessible to yourself and others.

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Whew!  Good luck to all of us.

 

3 Responses to What To Write? What To Do? What To Be?

  1. Mary E. says:

    Yes, I can understand your internal search for answers. Here I am eight weeks away from retirement-when you retired you had a whole new life mapped out in St. Thomas-a plan. I wonder what should I do?-indulge myself, become a complete hedonist! Could I accept that? I have contributed to a lot of “little minds.” I think the creative beast inside of us is hard to put down so as you said recently “go with the flow” and you may find the balance. Love ME

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m confident you’re going to find your “flow.” How exciting it is to be on the verge of a new life. Big Congrats!

  2. victoria says:

    The question we all might ask is “who is asking”, “Who is looking inside”. This query is like a koan. If there is an answer it will change each time the question is posed. Good luck my friend

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