I started writing so as not to die. I’m not sure where I got the idea about avoiding death—that being read by others, despite their own eventual end as dust and ashes, afforded immortality. It might have been the heroics of high-school English class. Sir Philip Sidney, in his grave and still looking into his heart! But who can look at life straight-on and survive? I stepped back to grope for words, to contain the chaos. It turned out that writing to avoid death meant also writing to avoid life: I held my breath so as not to lose it, averted my gaze to the page.
As a writer, I am a failed painter. When I was twelve I received a set of Grumbacher oils, and an art teacher encouraged me to experiment. Like swimming, he said: I can give you lessons or I can drop you in the water. He dropped me in. I was appalled at what I dredged up from the bottom of the lake; I revealed myself in passionate reds and covered them with greens. He talked with me about looking—or was it seeing?—and my eye learned a certain precision. Ultimately I opted for words, a medium in which I flailed less. Much of what I write still originates in the eye. Recently, in photos on the smartphone. But a photo, too, is an averted gaze.
Joy, sometimes. When the currents and the countercurrents converge in consonants and vowels. The sandbox, damp in shade, warm in sun: smooth grit. Coming down in another place, with no recollection of liftoff.
To practice unsaying