Saturday, July 25, 2009

Okay, Writers--It's Time to Fess Up Now:
Who's This Much on Your Wavelength?

'With other writers I can share ideas, but you seem to communicate something deeper. It is as if we met on a deeper level of life on which individuals are not separate beings.'
--from a letter by the immortal Thomas Merton to the Russian writer Boris Pasternak, author of Dr. Zhivago. We hope you have just one other writer--be it a mentor, former teacher, friendly rival, whatever--who understands you and your work this well (I'm privileged to have at least a couple). Either way, we'd love to hear your thoughts about the subject. Who knows, with a little luck and lots of patience, a fellow commenter just might become that person. And if you're simply a reader, we'd be equally interested in your reactions.


At 11:30 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

It's funny, I was just reading Merton again this morning. Or rather, in part, as I was reading the Merton section of Robert Jingen Gunn's "Journeys Into Emptiness: Dogen, Merton, Jung and the Quest for Transformation." (I read a lot psychology and spiritual literature as part of my morning routine.)

I've had one or two writers that understood me well as a writer, and from whom I learned a great deal about my writing and my tendencies. When I lived in Minneapolis, there was a monthly writer's group, mostly a poetry critique group, that I learned a LOT from attending; it was a good mix of people, and honest response was encouraged. It was not a "support group," and people who came looking for it to be a support group never lasted. It could be brutally honest. Frankly, I've never found a workshop quite as good for improving my writing ever since, online or offline.

Those friendships have fallen by the wayside in the past few years, however, and I'm pretty much on my own for now. I have taken the lessons learned from those writers, however, as I moved on. I follow my inner compass for now, right or wrong, without a lot of feedback. (Except for commenters such as yourself and Jim Murdoch, and one or two others.)

Merton's long essay(s) on Pasternak (in his book "Disputed Questions") is one of the finest essays on one writer by another that I've ever read. (It made me go back and re-read "Zhivago" as an adult, and I got lot more out of it.) I can think of a few other writer/writer or writer/artist duos that are similar. Loren Eiseley wrote a great essay on Robinson Jeffers. Edward Weston and Ansel Adams both wrote well about each other.

I probably use Merton's Pasternak essay as a subconscious template, I'm sure, when I write what I call Appreciations of other writers and artists on my blog.

As for the way Merton felt about Pasternak, that deeper-level communication, I've certainly felt that connection as a reader of, for example: Rumi, Rilke, Whitman, Barry Lopez, Borges, May Sarton, some few others.

verification word: preart

At 12:49 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Merton is the gift that keeps giving. When I read much of his stuff, I find myself almost believing that I know him in a personal way, despite the fact that our lives were (at least on a superficial level) in diametric opposition to each other. His writerly instinct is universal in that way. E.B. White has the same effect on me, as does George Orwell. To a little lesser extent, so does Emerson.

Your great list of examples of writers who were deeply connected in their understanding of each other got me to thinking of which others I might add to that list. None came immediately to mind, but I'm guessing some will in coming days.

The mid-century New Yorker Magazine literary critic Edmund Wilson does come to mind in a slightly different but related way: he wrote in such a piercingly knowing way about many writers that they came away believing that he understood them at the deepest possible level.

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

This quote is very much of Aristotle's: "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies" mindset. I'm not sure I buy it. To misquote Patti Smith: "My soul is mine, it belongs to me . . . me." I have a wife who is a poet. I regard her as my soul mate (although it's a word I personally would never use), and there's nothing I can't talk to her about and she gets me like no one ever has but we are very different writers. She writes 'decoder ring' poems whereas I aim for maximum clarity of expression. I don't get most of what she writes and it has to be explained to me. But we have values that are the same.

It's why Art Durkee and I get on so well although we are so different it's not true. The fundamentals are there. Where we go from there is very different but that's not as important as someone respecting who you are at your core. Art and I only talk about poetry, art and music. The odd personal detail slips in here and there, usually to illustrate a point, but they're not especially relevant. We have more differences than commonalities but what we have in common counts. Let me illustrate. Art's gay. I'm not. I don't get being gay. He probably gets being straight. I heard a man talking once about walking in a Gay Pride march where he noted that the only thing he had in common with the guy next to him was his sexuality. But, in that instance, that was enough for them to march side by side.

Back to my wife. She gets that I'm a poet. She gets when I get up from the watching the TV to write something down or crawl out of the bed at 2am and write all night (actually I had a lie in because it's Sunday and it was 3:30). She gets that. I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to excuse myself. I don't have to show her what I've been working on or even tell her what I've been working on. And the same goes for her. So it is possible for two people to be on two different wavelengths and yet feel like they're in harmony, in fact harmony is probably a better illustration here – I am C and she is E and they work together. If she was B or C# that wouldn't be so pleasant on the ear. I think Art is G. There are gaps when we sound off together but we are still in overall harmony.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Harmony is indeed the operative word, Jim. I'm sure many married folks will envy you that harmony.

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool article as for me. It would be great to read a bit more about that theme. Thanks for posting this material.
Joan Stepsen
Cyprus escorts


Post a Comment

<< Home