“Everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger. The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence. It is also, because of the nature of the activity, a deeply symbolic role. As a grave-digger, you are not just a person who excavates. You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions. You represent mortality, whether you like it or not.”
-Margaret Atwood, on writing, “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing”
I’m reminded of this “persistence” of the writer, after a great reading last night with the PEN EV Fellows. Yes, the performing self performs, but it’s the writing self (my more comfortable self, I think) that’s gotta keep going. I forget which writer/philosopher said this, but “I don’t know what I think until I see what I say.”
My very first day of high school, Mr. Neill, my counselor said this over and over again to us incoming freshmen. I didn’t understand that quote until I started writing more. I tried (maybe unsuccessfully) to explain this to a friend yesterday, who wanted feedback on a poem, without my having read it over and over again, and writing notes for myself. I read the poem for pure pleasure, and it’s hard for me to give critique without the time and effort to write it down.
Anyways, back to the reading at the Hotel Cafe, which was an excellent venue. For me, it’s amazing to witness and participate in the fellows’ writing processes, and then see everyone perform the hell out of their work last night. As each writer went up on stage, I’d never felt such camaraderie with other writers, as we all hooted and cheered each other on. I loved having our teachers, mentors, and the PEN staff in the audience too; it just felt like community. And of course, I was happy to see my own surprise guests. I feel so lucky.