Alice Walker writes in her collection We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For about keeping her mind empty and uncluttered with the ideas of others so that her own thoughts, her own words have space to grow. A nice concept, particularly for one given to meditation, yoga, and other woowoo pursuits.
But that ain’t how I roll.
My desk has a perpetual scrap pile, a rotating stock of slips of paper or napkins inked with other people’s ideas, quoted or paraphrased. They are my jumping-off place, the grease that gets the gears inside my head turning. I don’t own a book that isn’t underlined and dog-eared, each line and crease worked deeper every time I read it. It’s the whole reason I have a Wise Words category on this blog; the reason quotation dictionaries even exist. Someone has always said it well, before me–but that’s not to say that I can’t also say it, in my way. It isn’t exactly a collaboration, but it is part of the greater muse-artist-muse cycle that every thinking person is part of. “Wildly original” usually just means you dressed up the proverbial Same Old in an intriguing new outfit.
No, though the venerable Ms. Walker and I may have different opinions about how clean the slate should be when we sit down to write, my sin is not thinking too much on the words other people have written. It isn’t even that I lean too heavily on them when I put my own pen to paper. It’s that I’m prone to a special kind of hedonism, one given too much to incubation and not enough to propogation. I’m content to steep myself in other peoples’ words and ideas, rolling around in them with the enthusiasm my grandmother’s toy poodle reserved for fresh cow patties, thinking about where I might take them next. Thinking; not writing. Fragrant though the experience may be, it gets me no closer to clicking that “Publish” button.
My sin, more plainly put, is that I wait for the easy bits. I’ve amassed an impressive collection of notes, the zygotes of a thousand new pieces, but so often I only make time for the Venus ideas–those that emerge, fully formed and alive, lacking only the right accessories and a date to the ball. The task set before me, which I frequently push back like it was not what I ordered, is to take the sand in my own hands and diligently, attentively–arduously, even–craft the pearl. I gotta start with the seafoam, or the sunset in the background, not with the lady on the halfshell who comes with her own backstory and beaus, ready-built.
Walker does ask a compelling question, though: “Do you believe you can learn to trust a mind that isn’t always speaking to you?” While I cherish the quietude I cultivate, ever so clumsily, when I sit in meditation, it isn’t separate from the noise that always edges back in. If anything, the quiet mind lays fertile ground for the chattering mind–the words that fall into that space can grow into something rich.
I’ve turned the soil and gathered the seeds; now we’ll see what grows.