Some of my friends here at Marquette have convinced themselves that I will one day write a novel about us. About us: we strange comrades in arms, who live and die over books and ideas. We strange comrades, who know the day fast approaches when these moments will pass.
I can think of nothing more boring than a book about graduate school. A book about people who read books? Right. Real interesting.
Besides, I do not write novels. I have locked myself against them like a castle in siege. My dissertation is coming along nicely, though, thank you.
I am a fastidious sort. So I cannot quite rid myself of the haunting question: what would I write? How could I shape what has happened to us these long years, what happens to us still? Wouldn’t everything slip through my fingers? Only a lunatic would invite that mental agony.
Or a megalomaniac.
I am a fastidious sort. Few know the hours I have spent pouring over pages, reading great writers. The hours spent writing. And writing. And writing. As if driven by a threat, or a promise. As if words could redeem a mind that reeled with everything it could never know. As if words could soothe my own restlessness. Dark restlessness, and dogged. I wrote and wrote and wrote – and wrote…
After those raw hours, I am a machine. Sit me in front of a keyboard and I will shape words for you, any words you like. I will show you, softly, how to make words flicker with emotion. Not too much emotion – just enough. Just – enough. A writer must know what not to write.
Yes, a writer must know what not to write.
There is too much I never write. I am no real writer. I am a cold academic who can feign art, and who knows the difference. There is too much I never write, and there is too much in these past years to be written. How could I bear the weight of the task?
Bear the weight of our fairy tale years, replete with adventure and agony and fear?
I never loved writing the way I have seen others love it. Words have provoked me, haunted me – but I never loved them. Not the way others do. I could never own them the way others do. I long too much for silence, and I know words will not get me there. A book will not get me there.
Though I am by reputation closely associated with poetry, I grew up resenting it. It was most natural to me, and I resented it. I was driven for countless hours to hone words (and still find myself awake at night, feeling the dark need), but still I did not glory in it. I hid it, as one might hide a festering wound.
I do not trust artists, and the artist I trust least is myself.
And, God help me, I am an artist. Whether I like it or not. There, I said it. Though I don’t see what difference it makes.
Someone who loved words enough would have to do it, someone who embraced writing whole-heartedly would have to do it. Hell – it would have to be someone who knew what all this, all these many years, meant…
Hans Urs von Balthasar would say that they have to see the form. Artists have to see the form. They give flesh to form.
It could never be me. Words are too wonderful for me. My friends are too wonderful for me.
It could never be me.