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Serpent Blog - Wordlessness - Part 2 of the Book Passage Blogs

Serpent Blog

Wordlessness - Part 2 of the Book Passage Blogs 
This is the second entry in the Book Passage series that I re-post here leading up to my appearance at the famed Book Passage book store in Marin County, CA...

"From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?"

Ernest Hemingway


How do we know how to live? We observe others living. And we glean much from that, but our spiritual selves, our inner voices, our minds, are often difficult to verify and affirm. How do we know if what we are thinking is right? How do we know if what we feel is true and real?

All my life I’ve turned to three things for this validation, inspiration and the joy that is my natural Prozac – music, nature and books.

But of those three only books can fully articulate that which I feel in my own heart but cannot describe or name. The words and observations of women – Virginia Woolf, Ayn Rand, Carson McCullers. The words and thoughts of men – Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway. So many others. So many others. Who was it that gave voice to my boy’s soul as it cried out to ask of the world what it means to be alive? J.D. Salinger, Hermann Hesse, George Orwell. Time and time again what saves me from despair, and even death itself, are the words of those who’ve struggled before me to understand this life. If not for books, I tell you plain, I would not be alive.

Writing was a gift given to me by something outside of myself that I can feel but cannot name. At times, while writing Serpent Box, I was astounded at the glory and grace of finding words and discovering images that seemed to come from places I had been to in another life altogether. It was never easy, never simple and rarely fun. I struggled to maintain my faith in myself and I often wept and often prayed. Never in my life did I pray with such fervor and conviction. I prayed for the strength to endure the doubts that many expressed toward my undertaking - the insane notion that I could write a book. I prayed for the courage to face the blank page and draw something from it that was real and alive. I prayed for the story itself, that it might come again and fill me. And the strange thing about all that praying was that I was not, and still am not, a religious person.

I wanted to write a story that would help me to understand what life means. I wanted to answer the questions that plague those of us who choose to participate fully in the act of living. What am I, really? Why am I here? Is there a spiritual force behind my existence, or am I some arbitrary package of quanta and energy fields with an evolved mind designed to hunt and procreate more efficiently? In order to even attempt to get answers to those questions, I had to dig deeper into myself than I had ever dug before. And it hurt. And it weakened me. And it caused me to spiral into mini-depressions that were often crippling.

I opened this blog entry with another quotation from my wall of courage. I would turn to this wall before writing, every single day, and read a few words passed down from men and women who endured the soul-wrenching process of extracting from them a new form of truth.

Hemingway has been for me a great mentor. I choose not to focus on his private life, however, but the words he assembled into stories about people moving through life. The quote above has helped me to understand why I have chosen to dedicate myself not just to writing, but to writing beyond my ability, and to strive for something familiar yet wholly new. I was searching for my own faith.

Serpent Box focuses on a group of people who believe in the affirmable, physical manifestation of God on Earth. Holiness Sign-Followers believe in Biblical inerrancy. They believe that the Bible is literal truth, specifically the words of a resurrected Jesus to the unbelieving apostles. He told them that those who believe will be protected from harm by the Holy Spirit of God. This is an extreme example of faith and I was drawn to it for many reasons, but mostly because I had none. Or perhaps I had misplaced it. I lacked faith in myself and faith in the moral universe. Yet I felt within me a physical and emotional pang. I felt a pulling, a tugging, a calling from something clearly outside myself yet connected to me. Serpent Box is a direct manifestation of those feelings.

I am going to close today’s entry with another of my precious quotations. Because these words, these thoughts from other writers, meant so much to me, and in fact buoyed me and kept me on track through the dark times, I want to share them with you so that you can get a sense for what it is I have tried to do in Serpent Box and my other writing. I have tried, and am still trying, to put into words those feelings that rise and rush through me when I see a bee alight upon a flower or a beam of sunlight refracted through the surface of a pond. Whether I have succeeded or not only you can judge.

“The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through – not ever much.” John Steinbeck


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