Monday, August 4, 2008


Rain. Rain this morning. In this flood destroyed part of the world, it has been dry, and we need this rain. A paradox. An unkind paradox. But of course the paradoxical is everywhere.

Particles that are neither here nor there, for example. A particle whose momentum is determinable but whose position isn’t. Or whose position is determinable but whose momentum isn’t. And these are everywhere. Particles like these.

You are certain of something. You are absolutely convinced you know something to be true. Then it turns out you are wrong. Someone or some event brings the fact to your attention.

That certainty. That lovely feeling of being right. Of having got this one right. Well, it disappears. Like a lake into sun-heated sand.

And so feelings along with statistics and. Well. Just about everything else. Aren’t all that trustworthy.

Hard to trust oneself. What one knows and doesn’t. What one believes and doesn’t. After awhile. After more decades than one can count on a hand.

I read with surprise and pleasure yesterday the comment on the “Made Up Stories” post. Kathy Snodgrass! Wow!

Something I thought was true, wasn’t. Something I thought I remembered correctly, I hadn’t.

I begin to wonder how much I really do get right. Factual matters. Matters of judgment. Moral discernment. Aesthetic assessment. Spiritual insight. Matters of faith.

Saying anything about anything is chancy. Feels chancy. After you discover one of these mistakes. One of these many mistakes I know are there. Have got to be there. In the record. The record of this blog. The record of my life. The full cosmic range of them.

A pastor friend said to me the other day that writing is a spiritual discipline. Well, I don’t know who between us said it first. But the idea has been there between us and in us for quite a while. In the way we talk about our writing and our faith.

I’m not sure where the idea started in my pastor friend’s life, but I do know where it started in mine. It began first in a poetry workshop with Donald Hall. It then was nurtured in poetry workshops with Philip Booth and W.D. Snodgrass, George P. Elliott, Richard Murphy, and Howard Nemerov.

In those days, we didn’t call it a spiritual discipline. If we talked about it, we used words like honesty and integrity and skill. But the idea was that we were not merely messing around with words. That there was a moral intention in what we did and how we did it. We felt our word work and our life work were one integral and coherent thing. Or should be.

And of course, one felt cared for by these great teachers. One felt deeply valued because these fine writers took precious time away from their work to work with us and to help us learn their medium and their discipline.

Good writing gets things right. This was the idea.

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