Late in the day I loaded up some podcasts, grabbed my hat and trusty walking stick, and went for a stroll on the road. The sun was slipping fast into the sea and the light was turning golden, a gentle breeze stroked my face like cool fingers, and I suddenly felt happy. It was the motion, and being outdoors. Everything was poetry, even the understated details: the muted tones of the dry grass, the shining train tracks in the distance, the way the curve of a certain fence parallels the curve of the hills.
The podcasts helped too; the best was an episode of Paris Review, which featured a short story by Raymond Carver and excerpts of a 1984 interview with James Baldwin. Hard to beat company like that!
Baldwin in particular…what an eloquent, brave, and brilliant man…he shared thoughts about art, protest, and the pain of loving a country despite disappointment about its failure to change. “You may live your whole life as a battle,” he said, “but I don’t think you can escape it…I have changed because America has not.” His words seem timely and prophetic today: “When I was a kid, the world was ‘white’ for all intents and purposes. Now it’s struggling to remain ‘white.’”
But this interview focused on writing. He said that a writer has to take the risks of putting down what he or she sees, and “You learn how little you know.” In fact, the act of writing is itself a way to find out something that you don’t know, and perhaps putting down what you see enables you to begin seeing what it means. I think that’s what I try to do when I write. I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to say when I start out, but my hope is that the process itself will yield some understanding. Even here, even now.
“One writes out of one thing only: one’s own experience,” Baldwin observed in this interview. And when asked if he had advice for writers, his response was something like this: “The only advice is to find a way to keep alive, and write. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” Endurance. That seems to be the fundamental ingredient not just for writing, but for life itself.
But the quote that really lodged in my mind was this: “Your self and your people are indistinguishable from each other, in spite of the quarrels you may have. And your people are all people.” I love how that idea reflects upon the humanity of us all, on the things that we share, not the things that divide us. (What a thought for Thanksgiving in a time of divisiveness.) I’ve been exploring some family history lately too, and wondering sometimes if I obsess too much about my own personal stories, but now I’m trying on the idea that these stories reflect some universal elements of being human. I’m trying on the idea of this all-ness.
And this is just another digression in my stream-of-consciousness blogging. (“Blog is such an ugly word,” said a writer-friend recently. “Maybe we need another word for this. Mini-essays, perhaps?”) Whatever you call it, though, I’m exploring here, hoping to discover some meaning along the way.
It felt good, though, to be mobile and upright, walking briskly in the fresh air, listening to such worthy voices in my head, getting new input, not looking back but looking out. I felt exhilarated. I even liked myself. That’s what a good walk and a good sky can do.