Though I do not wholly subscribe to the errantry of the dolorous knight, Don Quixote, tilting at windmills to personify immortally the visionary and the impracticable, there is admittedly at least a measure of his wilfulness in me. Coincidentally, or not, there is also a shared fascination with and respect for sleep.
Blessings on him who invented sleep, the mantle that covers all human thoughts, the food that satisfies hunger, the drink that slakes thirst, the fire that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat, and, lastly, the common currency that buys all things, the balance and weight that equalises the shepherd and the king, the simpleton and the sage.
– Segunda Parte del Ingenioso Caballero Don Quixote de la Mancha, Capítulo 68, ca 1615 – my translation.
Fear not, this experiment in composition does not concern itself with sleep as such, but rather with its nature, which, borrowing the exquisite description of Don Quixote, or his creator, Miguel de Cervantes, corresponds nearly precisely with my view of writing; hence, of course, its utilisation here. In fact, in my opinion, which must alone serve this work, if I may assume the liberty of removing the accompanying passage from its intended context without offending either of the above mentioned gentlemen, may they rest in peace, the word ‘sleep’ may be very comfortably replaced by the word ‘writing’; thus attributing all of the virtues of sleep, to writing.
Before I endeavour to honour writing with such a bold comparison, however, perhaps a general discussion should be offered concerning sleep. Sleep, or some form of same, is essential to the well-being of all living creatures. Notwithstanding the luxury or the poverty, fitfulness or restlessness, thereof, sleep is a mandatory function of the bodies of all species destined to live and to prosper. Though other seemingly more urgent concerns may persuade us at times to persevere beyond sleep’s initial behest, we must eventually succumb to its persistent and ineluctable beckoning. We must, in wakefulness, transient itinerants all, volition willing or no, deliver ourselves unto the nurturing womb of the kind Sister of Death, thence to be hailed off, fortune granting, into the magical embrace of Morpheus.
Now we have entered the realm of dreams, wherein we shall linger only briefly here. Dreams, setting aside the myriad of scientific and other tentative theories on the subject, be they quasi–, pseudo–, or substantial, indeed avail us of much which may be deemed of value during our waking hours. Our dreams are a possession of our past. But as we meander or scramble along dream’s labyrinthine corridors, intent upon discovery rather than freedom, we meet no mirrors, only doors and windows, steps and slides, corners and angles. And whatever we encounter as our search unfolds is never familiar in its entirety, but in its individual parts, of which the unknown whole is a composite. Thus do dreams inform us of our inner, often unspoken, language; the language of our subconscious, of past-in-present, of image, phantasy, feeling, sensation, and will. Should the speech of tongues blaspheme against the silent half of language, these utterances are also merely those of a composite dialect reserved for dreams. If we are privileged to recall our dreams upon awakening, though rarely is this the case but for inarticulate snatches, glimpses, and residual senses, we may be pleased to find that the language of past-in-present has gifted us with an assortment of jewels from its treasury of symbolographic expression, which may be insightfully employed in future. We may also be wise in realising that the tenacious momentum of past-in-present is propelling us towards an inevitable future. This, however, is the topic of another essay; herein sufficing to remind the reader of the ancient maxim – Forewarned is forearmed.
Finally, subsequent to this last word of advice, we shall forthwith take our leave of the world of dreams, having tarried therein longer than expected, and proceed into the main body of this composition. We should never be disenchanted of the places into which we sometimes dream ourselves, travelling through nightmare to lost and moated lands, or of those we find there, though but seldom in their company seated – the mansuete, the carnal, the untameable. Have we not known them? Whom? They carry time looped so river-wise about their houses there is no way in by history’s road to name or to number them. But learn from them we must; for all we have lost to the past is all that we own today – our sole estate, our memory, our name.
Being convinced of the sagacity of at least a modicum of my readers, I trust that our excursions into the domains of sleep and dream will not have been thought to have been pursued in vain. To clarify, though, what I have alluded to in the immediately preceding paragraphs, is that writing may be considered, and is for me in fact, equivalent to sleep and to dream in many of their aspects. What sleep is to the body, writing is to the mind and to the spirit; dream being, I believe, beneficial to all three, as well as an inspiration to writing. In short, writing, as sleep, is essential to my well-being. I write, because I must. Writing meets my psychological, sensual, and spiritual needs just as sleep meets my physical needs. Of course, these needs do not remain constant in either focus or intensity, but they command to be met all the same, as obediently and as efficaciously as I am able. For further refinement of this argument, I now return to the altered borrowing of my two unknowing accomplices in this foray into the hidden fastness of writing.
Writing is the mantle that covers all human thoughts… Just as mantle shelters, and provides protection and comfort against baleful and intrusive elements, so does writing harbour and invite anchorage against the tempestuous and bewildering seas of wanton, uncommitted thought. In writing, the echoes and visions in our minds gain, on paper, the soothing voices and reassuring countenances of ourselves. In writing, fears lose their claws; doubts, their teeth; illusions, their seizure. Only writing wields the power to transform mere good intent into solemn vow, unbridled reverie into concrete exposition, aimless brooding into constructive examination. Writing is also the only weapon, both offensive and defensive, that most of us will ever need. It is sword and shield, lance and sling, arrow and bullet. And if honed and trained, it can more truly and more frequently hit its mark than any other weapon devised by men. A mantle covers; therefore it also conceals. In writing, be concealment for deception or for preservation, it is for the writer to decide.
Writing is the food that satisfies hunger, the drink that slakes thirst… Food and drink nourish and invigorate the body. Without them, in adequate amounts and in proper balance, growth is first stifled and then arrested. Writing likewise fortifies the mind and spirit. Those who write, calling upon the nurturing influence of memory, and of past-in-present, are with time made aware that their thoughts have matured, their feelings ripened. Nothing contributes more to the wholesome evolution, the positive enhancement of thought and feeling than does writing. Life may plant the seeds, but writing brings them to fruition. Though its origin is unbeknownst to me, it is often repeated that we are what we eat. We are, also, what we write. Indeed, upon the page it is ourselves we meet, and from the page may others best come to know us. Not only is the writer’s voice apparent in what she writes, but also her character, temperament, beliefs, all that has brought her to the page you read – in short, her past. And what is a writer’s favourite meal? Words in ink upon a platter of white; the more courses of same, the merrier.
Writing is the fire that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat… Is not passion aught but a heart inflamed and a mind enthralled? And if we must move with passion, do we not rest in reason? Writing, necessarily an activity and a product of our sedentary periods, usually exhibits a greater infusion of reason than do reckless hearts in tongues. At the same time, though, owing to the arsenal of weapons at its disposal, writing may be more heated than mouths in cautious heads. However it is perceived by the reader, to the writer himself writing serves as the best possible device for regulating his internal emotional climate. For every extreme of weather, there is in writing a means to mitigate its discomforting, languorous, or debilitating effects. A panacea for all internal ills it may not be, but writing more closely approaches this than anything else I know. What can a flame remember? If it remembers a little bit less than is necessary, it goes out. If it remembers a bit more than is necessary, it goes out. If only it could teach us, while it burns, to remember correctly. Writing apprehends the secret of the flame. Write, and it will teach you.
Writing is, lastly, the common currency that buys all things, the balance and weight that equalises the shepherd and the queen, la niaise et la femme sage… To secure entrance into our writer’s lodge, wherein the writer may enjoy both warmth and sustenance, she must necessarily have already paid her dues. Sacrifices have been made, many other pleasures forsaken; in unfaltering devotion to the demanding task, the necessity, of writing. As writers ourselves, we have written because we have been compelled by need to do so. But in attending to those needs, others have most likely been neglected. We have watched our writing grow to fruition, seeing in it the possibility, or even certainty, of greater harvest than in the fallow ground in whose midst it lies. We have given of ourselves so that from ourselves there might be born a more prolific and prodigious bounty. Now we have earned the right to enter into the writer’s lodge. Upon admission, we may fully partake of its incomparable hospitality in the company of others, all writers like ourselves, but originating from as diverse a lot of circumstances as has ever graced a county’s only wayside inn. Herein, all are equal before the written word. Amongst the exclusive sorority and fraternity of writers, criticism is fair and welcomed, as is praise, but these emanate from earnest concern and from respectful envy, from the springs of intelligence and experience, rather than from contempt or censure, spewing forth as they do from ignorance. To arrive there, ever, and as often as you come, you must bear in hand your completed work. With this alone, dressed in rags or riches, will the door be opened unto you, to regale at the writers’ table and to revel at their hearth. Oh…yes, our innkeeper, to whom the true writer requires no introduction, is none other than the Muse Herself. If She took anything but our writing to pay Her bills in Past-in-Present, how could it be spent?
In describing what writing means to me, acknowledging once again the aid of our Spanish soldier/writer and his errant, hapless knight, we first traversed with ambling gait the land of sleep and dream, and then, before a dancing blaze, I endeavoured to wine and dine you. But that which on these pages I would deign to allow, I must, lest you be writers, in reality, deny. For I have, in fact, at this very moment, arrived at the threshold of my beloved lodge. Before I close the door, however, in appreciation to those of you who have followed me thus far, and whose attention is still not waning, I will show to you my tickets, which, if interest prompts, you may in turn peruse. Lest you be writers, I must repeat, your comments will not be heard. My writing is my only cherished natural possession, a fragment and a voice of my life. I write, because I must. And as my writing issues forth from necessity, its merits cannot be questioned. For in the nature of its origin lies the judgement of it – there is no other.
All I have lost is my own. I was alive, I loved, I uttered words the hours erased, I felt a profound pity for the years to come. All I have lost is mine. I will not have, now, the day I once refused. Time has left me on the shore of this night, and perhaps a fleeting light will drown the silence.
Light, perfect as a tear, sharp as childbirth, come to me now. Penetrate the thick darkness – unlit by any star – which glazes my windows. Diffuse the night that like a permeable substance could seep into my skin. Shatter the funereal hush, the sculptured calm that envelopes and confines me. Time is your servant tonight. Elucidate for me a face from the past, lost but not forgotten, and day will break around me like a luminous, murmurous dream, gouging ever expanding tunnels through the shifting brume of illimitable blackness. Shadowed reality, at surprise’s dawning, will transform my wounded walls. The thin light of the end of the night will surrender to the unearthly light of the morning; the walls, stippled with refracted light, iridescent with the reflections of the sea, will become a pulsing azure sky which melts into the ocean’s dearest turquoise.
Enough? Enough! No, more! I want a voice. Beyond the sound of the waves that beat against the shore, beyond the blood that pounds in my ears, beyond the cave of echoes that is my mind, I need a voice to match the face that I have been given.
Yes, that voice like the soft consolations of the sea, that speech like the rhythms of the tides. Yes, that is it – almost.
Billet de banquet
Suspicion like the earth is hard, and like the earth opposes dense fact to the doubtable – which therefore like the air surrenders semblance to the bolder sights. I have surrendered place to many solid miles of brain-rote, to the just so many matters and no more that reason, grudging prodigal, allows numerous, consecutive. Even in my own mind I have stood last, an airy exile, nothing, nowhere, my eyes obeying laws of circumspection by which my self shone fanciful in lurid never. Because that had been so, I not. But as time learns a boredom, loathes the determinate succession, irks with un-calendared event, and brings surprise to be, the natural conscience snapped in me – and lo! I was, I am.
Elastic logic thinning grows delicate to marvels. Fine argument at finest disembroils the ravelled choking maze of caution. The sudden of the slow is bred, the curious of the common. Into the sceptic fog that mists infraction from the chronic rule stumbles intelligence a-rage to find the unthought wanton thought and, self-confounding, think it. My life, with other lives a world, with other ways of being a coiled nature, springs separate – I am personified, of being caught in that pressed confluence and proven look-substantial, yet strange to the familiar soul in fellowed course entwined. Acquaintance marks out un-acquaintance. Usage has bound of mystery. The continents of vision view a further which grows spatial from lying next, in dark increase of the gregarious light with which compacting sense embraces straggling all.
So have I lived, approaching rhythms of old circumstance to the perilous margin, moment. And struck the string which breaks at sounding, taken the tremorless note to mouth, and spoken sound’s inversion like a statue moved with stillness. This is that latest all-risk – an I which mine is for the courage no other to be, if not danger’s self. Nor did I other become, others, in braving all-risk with hushed step, mind rattling veteran armouries.
If this be I. If words from earthly durance loosed to earthly right of meaning cannot belie their wisdoming, the doubt-schooled care that bent back sense from skyish startle, faith’s delirium. If I my words am, if the footed head which frowns them and the handed heart which smiles them are the very writing, table, chair, the paper, pen, self, taut community wherein enigma’s orb is word-constrained. Does myself upon the page meet, does the thronging firm a name to nod my own – witnessing I write or am this, it is written? What thinks the world? Has here the time-eclipsed occasion grown language-present? Or does the world demand, and what think I? The world in me which fleet to disavow ordains perpetual reiteration? And these the words ensuing.
Though writing emerges from solitude, exile, and cunning, it must rise above the silence.