In a world where, as one poet says, “people seem to speak to each other mostly for profit,” it is exhilarating to listen to a voice that is practicing disclosure without seeking advantage. That is intimate.The Art of Voice – Poetic Principle and Practice, Tony Hoagland
There was a time when endless days of rain made me sad—but no longer.
This is my third Oregon January. I am accustomed to the climate now. I enjoy walking in the rain—primarily because there are fewer people. I’m not a curmudgeon, but these days I find my fellow humans to be a distraction. It’s a side effect of the pandemic. How can I be fond of people and treat them with my normal friendliness when they may actually be a threat to my life because they refuse to wear a mask?
I can’t suffer fools, not gladly. I used to be forced into doing so—in professional life one has to get along with people simply to survive. But no longer. I’m free of that. Instead, I muster the patience required to move aside from the unmasked people that jog by me on the narrow forest paths of Mary S. Young Park State Park along the west shore of the Willamette River, trailing their possibly infected breath behind them invisibly. Do they actually observe anything as they run? Do they smell the clean air? Are they happy? I never see them smiling.
I suspect they are running from something.
I know I can’t outrun anything, physically or metaphorically. Sometimes when I walk in the rain, I lower the hood of my jacket and lift my face to the moisture. It seems reasonable to do that—as if I am having a conversation with another aspect of the higher power. OK, I get it, I say to myself. Rain on my soul and heart. Awaken me. Thank you.
I don’t run from those random interludes of grace. I embrace them. I can hear the rain falling, see the water running everywhere in streams and rivulets, and recall that my body and brain are mostly made of water and that electricity dashes through the tissues of my flesh and the soft matter within my skull. Nature is inside me. My soul is moist here in Oregon, swelling after dry years in California.
There is no fever within me now. Many memoirists write about trauma. Is that why they have an audience? Because the reader can say I hear you brother/sister. Been there. I have not been maltreated. My only distress is that of grief, and it has calmed through the passage of time—but I try to understand the suffering of others. Doing that is easier than bearing fools.
I wonder who my audience is, and if I had one, would they experience what I write in the same way? My story is not exciting, not filled with triumph—but is that an attraction? Does anyone really want to read a memoir by someone who came from a functional family enhanced by love, faith, and normality?
There really is no answer to that vexed and unanswerable question. I write because I write. There is only the need to get the voice up and running and let it speak—that voice that needs to be released, not for any other reason that it requires to be released.
The writer understands, at least unconsciously, that the voice needs to tell a story, and create a journey—perhaps fictive or true or both. It is an intimate act. Writing is the most private art. It’s a direct connection between the electricity in the writer brain to the reader brain, and the mystery is that neither side can experience the connection at the same time. It’s a malleable, mental illumination that can’t be measured empirically, and that can’t be denied as a mere hallucination or fantasy because it is not reducible to anything other than the closest thing that we have to mind-reading or casting thoughts into each other’s heads.
It’s an aspect of the human experience of the spiritual creatures that we really are—locked into our own ego-skulls, lonely and craving companionship. Poets, writers, playwrights, wordsmiths of every kind—perhaps even those who write shopping lists occasionally—tell a story, simply because it desires to be told and because writers live within their own metafictive worlds.
That’s the basic truth of literature. Writers have a voice. Readers search it out. No one can explain that in the same way that we can talk about calendars, longitude, latitude, chemistry, or any of the touchable sciences. The voice vaults from Imagination.
I’m mortal. Anything I write will be left behind, but who am I to think that anything I create, no matter how lucid or beautiful, is really of any great importance other than the expressions of a spiritual being who was given the gift of human experience?
I can’t deny the rain in January, or the fact that a half million Americans are dead from Covid-19, or that I can’t travel anywhere because of the pandemic—nor the fact that there are so many fools in this world requiring that I bear their existence so I can work on my own compassion and patience, hopefully compensating for my own foolishness.
I am living in my own metafiction. The rain is falling. There’s a break coming up soon. I will walk and remove my hood and await the voice, which is always there, riding on the atmospheric river, and flowing from my soul. It’s what I do, and I’ll keep at it.
Willamette River – Mary S. Young State Park – Photos by Richard Gylgayton
Note on the text from Wikipedia.
Anthony Dey Hoagland (November 19, 1953 – October 23, 2018) was an American poet. His poetry collection, What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Wikipedia article about Tony Hoagland