Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Treasure Trove

There is something dark in me, something among all my thoughts, something that I cannot measure with thoughts, a life that can’t be expressed in words and which is none the less my life…
Robert Musil, The Confusions of Young Torless

Kafka once wrote in one of his diaries: "The beginning of every story is ridiculous at first." I've always loved that because through the years it has encouraged me to start each new story without embarrassment or apology.

Once we finish the story, what then?

This has been on my mind the last two days. I have written a lot in my blogs about how stories come from a dark place in myself, a secret, hidden place which Jung called the unconscious. To use the title of one of my favorite poems by Adrienne Rich, it is like "Diving into the Wreck."

Often, though, this diving doesn't yield what I had hoped. Very often, I'm disappointed by what I write and have to acknowledge that the writing is nothing like what I'd envisioned. Recently, I came across a quote about this kind of disappointment:

“As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and then when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure, and when we return to the light of the day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered.” (Maeterlinck, The Treasure of Homer.)

So my question would be, how do we keep from deluding ourselves? How do we even know whether we've brought up treasure and not just shards of glass?


emmapeelDallas said...

First, I love the Kafka quote, thank you so much. Also, thank you for mentioning Diving into the Wreck; I just read that for the first time, and it's a terrific poem as well as a wonderful concept.

For me, the diving almost never yields what I hope, the treasure is so elusive and so tenuous. I get an idea and the words seem to be there, only to become hopelessly lost or garbled when I try to put them down on paper. I've thought of trying to tape record myself, to "get the words out", but I've never actually done that, because there's a primitive, superstitious part of me that believes there is some magic in the physical act of putting words to paper...rationally, I know that's not so, and yet writing is hardly a rational act. "...and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered.” Aaarrggghhh, that's it, exactly. I don't know that we ever know that what we've brought up is treasure, except in others giving us feedback. Even then...there's a story about Tolstoi, I don't know if you've heard this. The story is that when he was very old, his daughter was reading aloud, an obscure paragraph from War and Peace. Tolstoi reportedly listened for a couple of lines and then said, "That's pretty good, who is it?" I don't know if it's true or not, but it brings up a good point: that once the words are out, maybe most of us are on to something else, we're seeking new treasure, and can't be bothered with whether the shiny lump on the table is silver or lead. And yet I find that hard to believe. I've been reading a book of short stories by Annie Proulx, Close Range, and she writes so beautifully...referring to a woman's voice, she writes: "She could make you smell the smoke from an unlit fire". I can't believe anyone who could write that line could ever forget it, it's so beautiful.


Anonymous said...

I don't like it, but I have an inner critic that says shards of glass don't sell. Or they don't sell for cash, you have to give them away. Teagrapple

Erin said...

Very thought-provoking entry, Theresa! I think perhaps the delusion is necessary for creation. The initial excitement (almost a high!) I get from that first nugget of truth, that first glimpse of idea that I'm sure will turn into the best story ever written--that's what drives me to draft the story. When I'm done and the story is just a "drop of water" and so far from what I'd envisioned, well, at least I've written it. Had I known at the outset what the outcome would be, I may not have been inspired to write it at all. And sometimes, even if I'm disappointed, I've still written something that's not too bad.

Also, I love the Kafka quote--"The beginning of every sotry is ridiculous at first." That will be very helpful to remember for me going forward!

Vicky said...

I think the answer is that we don't know. If our words are true to our discoveries from within, then maybe they will gleam more for others as THEY discover them for the first time. In some ways, as soon as we put something into words, we objectify it and move it away from the center whence it derives its treasure. But we are so intrinsically language-based that using words is all we really have to communicate accurately. So I guess we have to live with it - still, finding the perfect descriptive phrase remains a joy.

Now I shall replace my left wrist brace (I have a cast on the right wrist) and return to not typing for a bit!

Love, Vicky xxx

V said...

For me, there are rare times that I reread what I`ve written, and smile.
You must smile a lot.

dreaminglily said...

When I was younger, I collected broken bottles. I loved finding old smashed plates, and bottles that no one makes anymore. Back then, my treasure was broken glass.

Maybe there are no broken shards, just things that we don't look at in the right terms. Everything is a teasure, perhaps we just don't always understand it.


Theresa Williams said...

What a beautiful response, Lily.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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