I wrote so deep into the uncontrolled darkness I didn’t know if I was a word or a page or a period at the end of a sentence.
Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind (1991)
I sit and read because words are lost to me. Once, I wrote. It’s December and, although the sky is that pearl of eggshell blue and the sun is weak over the winter day, words won’t just come just because it isn’t grey outside. I sit and read. Now, and only now, can some semblance of ‘writer’ form. Some days, of course, we’re floating. No amount of mock raising of the spirits, shaking awake the muse — dead to the world — can bring about a single written word. We just wait. Procrastinate and all will end well?
You see, jumping right in is all very well, but jumping in involves first standing on the edge. We are gradual creatures: we work in slow degrees. We function in mechanical operations, even if we don’t know this; yet, today the sky is eggshell blue, now I read, over there is the possibility of an edge, now jump. What if we were to bring the mountain to Mohammed? Once, on returning to the beach, a child said, ‘Why has the hole I dug moved away from the water?’ (or words like these). Let’s bring the edge of the hole to the place where we are, and jump. What can words now be? Jump in and write.
Falling is fierce. We feel the wind on our faces. We sit up straight in our chairs. I sit up straight in my chair. Here I am. I fall. I look around at the words that start to scroll: the rock has colours I couldn’t see from above. Here I am, sliding into the earth. I don’t have concerns for pretensions. Here I am. Here is now. Dark yellows and deep greens, red on burnt white and brown. What is down here? In the hollow of a mind resides all sorts of insects. When I land I want to loft the stone to see. Underneath may be cockroaches and striplings of baby adders too: it’s not all the rosy shine of eggshell, down below.
Look deeper in the fall. When we land in words what do we feel? Do our bodies know we’ve landed at all? Here is sand, and here is dirt, or there’s nothing but love in subterranea: the hands of a thousand ghosts coil like soft clean smoke, smoothing over the possible scratches on skin. The body-soma doesn’t feel under the mind-touch of words: words like smoke like oxygen, pure and simple, like white dry ice or liquid nitrogen, permafrost. What the words do here is smother all otherness, here at the bottom of the hole. Perhaps there’s more . . .
Go deeper. Dig down till you reach the centre of the world. Here is the magma to make words rotate. Here is carbon in long straight ways. Open up and open up, let it in. Words won’t hurt. Dig deeper, dig farther: out into the clear night on the other side of the planet. Here are stars hiding on the lip of the horizon. Fall through and away . . .
Today the sky is a pearl of eggshell blue, as I look up and see, just as the door downstairs opens and the house fills up with noise: co-incidence or the universe at work? I can’t tell.
Jump in yourself, and see the way that words are.