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July 01, 2014


Oh yes THIS!

I feel like that's my whole life—hey guys, check this out, isn't it wonderful/beautiful/amazing/interesting/cool?! Can you see what I see?

Just yesterday when somebody asked me what I did for a living, I said I was a retired propagandist. Spending a half-lifetime career writing for university development obviously has left me conflicted about writing for "others instead of self" but I realise, reading this, that it is a good discipline to write invisibly, and that the success I had was because of my interest in what I was writing about and my ability to craft sentences that offered what filled me with fascination, to people I had no other connection with. The fact that they were philanthropists does not change the connection and the fascination. So this post of yours, Beth, addresses my scrupulosity in a very tonic way. [Tonic being the operative word for Canada Day festivities and the present Heat and Humidity[

First we have to train ourselves to be people who actually see something: people who are able to quiet down enough that we become an eye, an ear, a sensitive skin, but not so sensitive that we cannot bear it.

Yes. This.

I've been feeling oversensitive lately -- moved to tears by almost everything. And yet I don't want to stop being sensitive, because that's how I engage with what's real in the world. It's a delicate balancing act. In any event, thank you for this post, and for the reminder that it's our job as artists to be the finger pointing to the moon.

I considered printing out the same quote and putting it up on the wall as well :) Almost poetic in its simplicity.

A moving observation and aphorism. I also recall what John Irving once said, as advice to young writers: "Just because it happened doesn't mean you have to put it in". So, for me there is a challenge to point yet also to not 'overpoint'. Always working on that and rarely entirely pleased.

Ego is certainly one of the obstacles, and so is the sheer amount of information one encounters.

But is this not the task of all art, philosophy and religion? To point so that others may discover their own truth?

This dovetails quite nicely with the Zen adage about the finger and the moon. A teacher's job is to point students toward the moon, but too many students focus on the finger, not the moon. The finger is just a tool; the moon is the goal.

You could say the same thing about writing. Writing elegant sentences isn't the point; the point is use elegant sentences to point readers to some bigger, larger thing. For me, it's about waking people up to what THEY can see: their own view of the moon, so to speak, rather than mine.

I'm charmed that you read The Guardian. But then you've read Ulysses, too. Goodness, we're almost siblings.

I don't always read Burkeman. His column carries the strap - This column could change your life. I find that a bit red-top, a little too desperate.

I'd add a point to your wise words. Burkeman writes for money, thus his pieces have, in a sense, to be written. Blogs don't have to be written. They're a luxury to the writer and the act of writing them must include a certain amount of fun. Even when the subject's serious.

The problems start when that "fun" leaks out into what's written and we have a variant of the failing alluded to in my favourite aphorism: easy writing, hard reading. The risk is very great. If we blog regularly (and why else do it?) subject quality will vary; inherent worth is elusive. Style (that most mysterious entity) can help provided it grows out of the subject. Earnestness is usually counter-productive as are adjectives and adverbs. Recognising these points causes many bloggers to become "intermittent".

Thus we have the paradox: voluntary writing is hard but should be fun. Resolving that one requires vigilance yet being vigilant sounds so... earnest! Gardening anyone?

PS: Quotes, used sparingly, can help. For instance: At seventy-seven it is time to be earnest - Dr. Johnson. And I am seventy-eight, going on nine.

Hi Nina -- yes, mine too!

Vivian, here's to Tonic in whatever form it takes!

Rachel, it's so difficult to deal with wanting to be open to everything, to hold everything, and yet not be crushed by its weight -- but that's the task, isn't it? To learn how to do that, and how and when to step away enough to recharge, to drink at the well rather than always filling other people's pitchers. A lifelong practice, and writing seems to help. Big hugs to you!

Martine, thanks again for this link and for putting that quote in both our minds!

Duchesse, thanks for the great Irving quote -- you (and he) are completely right, and it's something I've struggled with in my writing too.

Tom - I'm going to have to think about that some more. Maybe in an ideal sense, yes, but so much of what we see and read seems more about the author/creator/institution ad their own egos or self-preservation and perpetuation than about a selfless giving. Do you agree?

Lorianne, thanks for adding the Zen perspective and making the point about the goal of opening the readers' minds to their own truth. That's part of what I meant when I mentioned ego but you said it better!

Roderick, of course we're sibs, you even like breakfast at diners! The title of Burkeman's column is a bit off-putting, I agree. Excellent point about "easy writing, hard reading" -- and it's definitely a danger for facile longterm bloggers, ahem, who don't necessarily put in the requisite effort to construct their prose - not every post hits it out of the park, in fact very few do, but there is something worthwhile in the continued effort that helps lift the occasional post out of the ordinary -- and, one hopes, keeps the general level above the hum-drum.

Wholly agree with the seeing and the pointing - seems like my raison d'être. I mostly like Burkeman's column and by the way, I met him once at that Guardian party where I learned I was the winner of that Guardian competition and became editor of Guardian Women for a whole week. Ah, that was such fun! Was in 2009? Can't remember now.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.