More than ever, I have been writing. Writing, you will note, is not really a craft. It’s something—I’m not sure what exactly—which shapes how you see anything.
Recently, it’s been shaping what I see. I’m drawn to other literary critics who dwell in poetry (one more chapter to go in Maureen McLane’s My Poets); I spend time trying to twist clichés into original statements; I wonder what may endanger sumptuous prose, rendering it vacuous; I want to know how to earn the force and power of my best thoughts.
All of these high-sounding notions correspond with feelings of inadequacy. When I stumbled upon Ada Limón’s “Little Day,” where she places herself on a park bench, always writing, my mind took the fact that I’m typically indoors and alone and put on repeat YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A SERIOUS WRITER for a good few days. I found myself at a coffee shop with a large patio area confronting this poem in my journal, trying to figure out why this is what it comes down to:
Little Day (from Lucky Wreck; h/t @ArianeBeeston) Ada Limón This is what it comes down to: Me on a park bench, always writing, This is what it comes down to.
“What have I accomplished today?” could be rewritten “little day,” a day in brief. This is not to reduce experience to a few words, but to find a few words for opening and reopening experiences. This is what it comes down to thus has to perform two functions which are in tension. First, it has to give us something small we can work with and remember. For a writer, this can be a tactic so precise it could pull one away from the emotional presence we need to actually live life. Advice I got from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird which I use, in my own way: index cards. Have a bunch of index cards and as things happen or come to mind, get a brief note down. Later, take that note or notes and expand.
I can easily imagine myself using this tactic as a form of building artificial distance from things. Jot down a brief note, pretend like I don’t have to respond to something immediately. In order to not slip into denial, I have to remember the second function of this is what it comes down to. It must form an entrance to a moment that is its own world. It demands emotional honesty, command of detail, and evolving reflection. Me on a park bench, always writing—to be in sunlight, aware, ready to engage nature and others, working alone but also exposed—this has to be an imagined condition. It literally isn’t possible in certain places and times.
This is what it comes down to serves as a most elegant conclusion to this meditation. It places us on the park bench, ready to write ourselves. It invites us there through simplification—get to this imagined spot and you’ve found yourself. Moving outward, as a matter of consequence, a luxurious necessity.