This afternoon, I started writing again about the memorial to my dad that I had almost four months ago. Because two years ago they published another essay about me, my father, and the same Arkansas River, I was aiming for this essay to also be for High Country News. Well, as I wrote, things on the page got dark. What was getting written wasn’t what I intended, expected, nor (in a sorta real sense) wanted.
But I kept pen to the pages. Really, what else was I to do? It was rich, mucky, fecund stuff—so what if it was tangenting in a unexpected direction? If the writing had been sunny and upbeat, I wouldn’t have stopped just because it wasn’t minding where I want it to go. Annie Dillard addresses this problem of the writing, specifically the characters, getting away from the writer: “What’s a god to do?”
I’ve mentioned in an earlier post the struggle between taking credit for the writing and being honest about it coming from Somewhere Else. How it still comes down to the gift and talent of being open, of getting out of inspiration’s way. Part of engaging in the dance is choosing when to lead, when to be led.
Too, there’s this: Sometimes there’s stuff that has to be written in order to get to the stuff that’s meant to be in the finished piece. Either that particular thread is en route to where you need to go, or it needs to be said and given its due so that you can move on to the “actual” writing. And, finally, there’s a whole can of worms that gets opened once you start in on a specific subject. There just may be more than a single essay waiting to be written about the Ark, my dad, and me. Unless I stay with the writing, no matter where/how it goes, I’ll never find out; the story to be told will never find its way through me.