Such a Thing as a Thing to Say

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or even if there is such a thing as a thing to say.
-Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer, or Have You Earned This Cliche?”

These are the thoughts that plague me, not only in my fiction but in writing this blog as well. Perhaps more so with this blog because there’s no story in which to gradually reveal meaning; I have to be as concise and direct as possible. Every time I consider making a post, I run the topic through the gamut: Is this something obvious that everyone already knows to be true? If not, would anyone care? Is this a significant contribution to the blogging community? Do I have anything significant to contribute at all? Is there anything I can say that I feel is absolutely true, without exception? Should I even bother?

Taoism is largely to blame for this impotence in writing. As written in the Tao Te Ching, “To use words but rarely / Is to be natural” (23.1-2). The Taoist sage does not presume; he or she says and does as little as possible. Listening is valued above speech and silence above noise. This is because the sage realizes that human perception is limited; one can’t see all the facets of an issue and one can’t foretell exactly the outcome of any given action or decision. I’ve had a lot of foot-in-mouth moments in my life and I know exactly how it feels to make a statement half-cocked and come to regret it later. It’s in the interest of self-preservation for one to be silent, to listen rather than speak. During the Warring States period in China, where Taoism was born, one’s life could be saved by keeping silent because change was rampant and one’s enemy one day might turn out to be one’s leader the next, and one’s leader could just as quickly become one’s enemy.

My situation isn’t so precarious, but self-preservation is still valuable in terms of dignity and peace. Aside from human rights issues, I can’t pretend to know the value or outcome of any law or political decision, so I veer away from blogging about politics. And there’s so much that I don’t know about religion, or art, or literature, or people in general that I hesitate to make any hard-and-fast claims about any of that, either. All I know is what I see before me, and I know that my sight can only travel so far. I don’t know that anything I see or feel is valuable to anyone but me, or even correct.

So how should I presume? Why have a blog? Why write at all? Why not just stay silent? I’m not sure, really. Part of it is vanity, a desire to be heard and praised. Another part is a desire to create something beautiful for the sake of beauty. It also comes from a desire to express myself, to take those sparks within me and make them manifest. To make myself vulnerable and, through that, connect with other souls who have the same questions and preoccupations. Communication is about connection, after all. And perhaps my hesitation stems from a fear of not finding those connections, of further alienation. I think it’s also about the desire for meaning, but not the meanings that others create. It’s to construct and discover my own meanings, to find truths for myself. Silence is good for contemplation; expression makes those contemplations solid, real, allows me to test them out. And still another part of me writes — creates — to exorcise those demons that lie within, to put them to good use, to turn them into something beautiful and valuable, if only for me.

Whatever the reason, I continue to write. I still don’t know if there’s value in anything I have to say, but that doesn’t quell the impulse to speak. So I waver between doubt and hope, fumbling in and out of whatever spotlights I make for myself, searching for answers and meanings hidden in the shadows.

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