Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Summer Risk

Everywhere you go these recent days, the scent of jasmine holds the atmosphere hostage, introducing a sense of romance and adventure into the days, lingering into nighttime walks, a viable presence like a poem you’ve memorized or a love letter you intend to write as soon as you encounter the person to whom the letter should be sent.

Time is moving on toward June, which means writers conferences, which, since about 1980 has means workshops and lectures and the tang of new discoveries you hope to make as you prepare notes for lectures and workshops.

As the Solstice approaches, the hint of new discovery becomes the advance guard.  You already know about yourself that the thought of using old notes for anything beyond an outline or jumping-off point becomes impossible.  You are secretly and publicly pleased you want surprise and freshness; such are the ingredients of surprise, which itself is the product of two or more seemingly unrelated things becoming connected for you.

As you make notes, begin what seem to be adventurous excursions set down in outline form, you feel two forces at work, the tingle of enthusiasm and the gritty determination of sending your outline off on some kind of risk.

Risk smells of jasmine.  Risk smells of the iodine tang of the sea.  Risk sounds like inappropriate music, Mozart being played instead of some down-home funk, jazz being played instead of Mozart, Bach being played when you are trying to work.  This last is of particular concern because it is so often impossible to concentrate on work with any Bach composition in the background, tearing you from your concentration of your work to concentration on it.

Risk is the sight and rhythm of prose by a writer you have come to appreciate to the point where you read that writer’s work again and again, paragraph by paragraph, fighting to see why the writer stopped there, relieved when you can find nothing in it to edit out or change or in any way enhance.

Risk is the absurd sandwiches you make yourself at lunch or dinner breaks from work rather than making a more conventional meal or going to a restaurant.  Risk is eating a meal, or most of it, over the kitchen sink, although there have been times when the sink was the bathroom sink.  Risk is eating a meal at the kitchen table that should have been eaten over a sink.  Risk is the reason you can no longer wear your favorite cobalt blue sweatshirt outside because of the stains and the things you did and did not do, trying to remove the stains you acquired when you should have been eating a particular lunch or dinner over a particular sink.
Risk is the awareness of a clutch of information—you would not call it understanding or insight—that has come to you much like the occasional bird that ventures past your front door, left ajar to admit spring and summer drafts.  You are so taken with the information that you write with a fury, hoping to get it all down before it departs.

Risk is staying on a line too long or not outlining a lazy paragraph for delete, then dispatching it to the waste bin.

Risk is thinking you understand things you will never understand and not thinking you understand things you already do understand.

Risk is any kind of writing about the work you do, thinking the writing will help you understand the work you do on some kind of global, complete basis.

You will understand the risky business of trying to organize your thoughts for lectures, workshops, or editorial reports, is something like trying to capture a thin sauce with a slotted spoon.

Soon enough, you will be behind desks or lecterns, facing individuals who have genuine concerns about things you will say now about things you’d thought and written about weeks ago and subsequently thought you’d known enough about them to appear behind these desks or lecterns.  Then you will know the other side of risk, where fear burns away the preparation and presumed knowledge, leaving you desolate for the scent of jasmine or iodine.

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