"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Quote of the Day: The Page

So, I'm writing this from my phone. I'm not sure if that makes me more or less professional... Needless to say I will be thoroughly checking for typos when this is finished, and I apologize for any weird autocorrect problems.

It seems only fitting that after a short hiatus we start at the beginning again. We start with the blank page. I recently ran across this absolutely stunning quote from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life:

"Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity..."

I think writers struggle with the blank page for much the same reason we struggle with uncertainty. That's what it is, isn't it? The uncertainty of not knowing what to write, or if it will be good. The sheer terror of knowing that you are creating something from thin filaments of thought that may not hold up on their own. Everyone has felt dread like a weight in their stomach. Everyone knows what it is to be alone and unsure, staring if not into a blank whiteness, then into a blue sky or a pair of eyes that don't answer back. When I first read this quote, I thought "the page" sounded like a cruel teacher. But then, what is life if not the same thing?

But there is one crucial difference between life and the page. Between all the uncertainty and mystery they both hold, the page is permanent. That is something that life will never be, and maybe that's for the best. I love what Dillard says about ruining everything you touch but touching it anyway. Making art is the act of ruining, of marring something that was once clear and white and beautiful, and only when the ruin turns into beauty can we call it art. I used to get so frustrated when my teachers would pose the "What is art?" question, usually citing one of Duchamp's ready-mades as an example of something that was questionable. I used to think, aren't we done with this question? Haven't we figured this out by now? And what's more, if everyone's interpretation of art is different, then why bother to ask? I still think that "what is art?" is a poor question. I think we can do better than that. I think we should assess our own ideas about art and ruin, about uncertainty and permanence. We should come up with our own questions that have answers that belong only to us. And this leads me to my favorite part of the Annie Dillard quote, which is that she is asking us to choose action over uncertainty, to say yes to ruin. This is the part that I'm still working on. For some reason I've grown comfortable with the uncertainty and the doubt, and I think if I just hold out long enough it will fade to the background. And then, when I do act, I discover again how wonderful it is, and how much better it is than staring at a blank page. This is all still a work in progress, but I'm beginning to be okay with that. I'm beginning to understand that writing is work and that it doesn't always come like it is now, straight from my fingers into this tiny phone keyboard. And yeah, most of what we touch is ruined. But there's always an exception to the rule.

1 comment:

  1. Laura, I ran into this referencing Ms Dillard's wonderful quote on the blank page. I use it in a novel I've written, Beth's Book, which I'm re-writing.
    I think you might like this quote I discovered over a writer friend of mine has over his desk: 'We write in order to taste life twice.'
    And you, young lady, obviously have something to say. Keep writing.
    tim woods