Sometimes I pick up a book, only half intent to read it. I carry it with me. It is now a moving body, it seems, with a mind of its own, for I leave it in places and don’t know why. I lose sight of it, become half aware of it or forget about it completely. If it travels far enough, it ends up on the bedside table, and there I wait for an artful moment to open it.
Some authors I struggle to read, they’re so good. Pages and paragraphs are long meditations. Lately it’s Annie Dillard. We have this collection of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, and The Writing Life in one book. A few days ago I was somewhere with it reading An American Life. I relished reading about Dillard’s mom, with her childlike joy for the sounds of certain words, like “portulaca,” “poinciana,” and “Terwilliger bunts one,” as well as her artistic (and I would add adult) sense of duty toward form. Today, I thank Dillard for my meditation. Here’s how The Writing Life begins:
“When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself in new property. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.”
Tomorrow or next year. Like you have been digging all that time. And nothing but more cave ahead. The idea works for drawing, too. Whatever makes that possible is very interesting. She is using one medium to talk about something even larger than writing, per se (or drawing). She’s located the foundation under art and life. This, to me, is an amazing accomplishment, worthy of mention. By virtue of this multivalence, or what theologian David Tracy would call an “excess of meaning,” she’s articulated that how art works is how life works.