Writing as a Search for Wisdom

THE POET by ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
The poet in a golden clime was born,
     With golden stars above;
Dower’d with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
         The love of love.

He saw thro’ life and death, thro’ good and ill,
     He saw thro’ his own soul.
The marvel of the everlasting will,
         An open scroll,

Before him lay; with echoing feet he threaded
     The secretest walks of fame:
The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed
         And wing’d with flame,

Like Indian reeds blown from his silver tongue,
     And of so fierce a flight,
From Calpe unto Caucasus they sung,
         Filling with light

And vagrant melodies the winds which bore
     Them earthward till they lit;
Then, like the arrow-seeds of the field flower,
         The fruitful wit

Cleaving took root, and springing forth anew
     Where’er they fell, behold,
Like to the mother plant in semblance, grew
         A flower all gold,

And bravely furnish’d all abroad to fling
     The winged shafts of truth,
To throng with stately blooms the breathing spring
         Of Hope and Youth.

So many minds did gird their orbs with beams,
     Tho’ one did fling the fire;
Heaven flow’d upon the soul in many dreams
         Of high desire.

Thus truth was multiplied on truth, the world
     Like one great garden show’d,
And thro’ the wreaths of floating dark up-curl’d,
         Rare sunrise flow’d.

And Freedom rear’d in that august sunrise
     Her beautiful bold brow,
When rites and forms before his burning eyes
         Melted like snow.

There was no blood upon her maiden robes
     Sunn’d by those orient skies;
But round about the circles of the globes
         Of her keen eyes

And in her raiment’s hem was traced in flame
     WISDOM, a name to shake
All evil dreams of power–a sacred name.
         And when she spake,

Her words did gather thunder as they ran,
     And as the lightning to the thunder
Which follows it, riving the spirit of man,
         Making earth wonder,

So was their meaning to her words. No sword
     Of wrath her right arm whirl’d,
But one poor poet’s scroll, and with his word
         She shook the world.

“To suppose that people do not feel things because they do not scream and yell and fill the air with their cries, is simple nonsense …” J.C. Ryle

How true this sentence. The squeaky wheel gets the attention. Still waters run deep.

Heroes are often times so flamboyant. Victims, when photographed well, move others to tears.

But what about the quiet man? Quiet men intrigue me. The quiet purposes of men suffering in silence so often lead to misunderstanding and lack of empathy. Their decisions, their foolishness, their tendency to snap like stray dogs at the person willing to wait at the gate of their hidden depths … these things bring questions not only about them but about me.

How often do I create fictional motives for others?

How often do I have the patience to wait for answers from the deep before plunging into situations and only making them worse?

Some readers of fiction have little patience for quiet men who don’t explain themselves early. It’s understandable. We live in a busy time. Will it profit us to sit with people who take too long to disclose the reasons behind their seemingly irrational behavior?

I like quiet men but I’m better as a writer waiting for CHARACTERS to tell me why they seem so aloof or unlovable than when I have real men keeping their silence.

 

Featured Painting:

Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin by Ilia Efimovich Repin

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual” ― Virginia Woolf

Today a short post. I’m curious. Have you ever set out to write one thing only to have something totally different and surprising break through?

Tell us about your surprises in life and writing.

I’m anxious to hear from you all!

 

***Featured Image: The Small Meadows in Spring by Alfred Sisley

Family Histories: It isn’t even past

Welcome to another installment of Family Histories. Today my featured guest is KEVIN BRENNAN, an accomplished novelist and editor. Kevin discusses how other people’s family stories have influenced his writing–particularly a family he knew growing up in the 1970’s during the Watergate hearings.  (The featured image is of my father and me during that same period–possibly watching the hearings)

I appreciate Adrienne’s invitation to write something for her Family History series, following a little discussion we had about phoniness and internet authenticity a while back. She mentioned her faith and I mentioned my atheism, and we both liked each other’s frankness on what can be a touchy subject online.

I’ve been thinking a lot about family history lately because I’m seeking an agent for my new novel about a unique family, the Heartneys. Their moment of crisis takes place in 1973, during the period of the Senate Watergate hearings, but the source of their pain occurred ten years before, when they lost a newborn child, then promptly buried their grief in order to function and survive. We learn through the course of the book that family history plays an even greater role than that in the story – always the gift that keeps on giving.

We all know that burying our feelings is no way to carry on, yet so much that surrounds family history concerns the well-meaning errors that we make in reacting to extraordinary circumstances. And the errors made long ago by an earlier generation can reverberate for decades. In my book, the parents of Mrs. Heartney – Arlene – protected her from her mother’s terminal illness, so that the sudden loss of her was a shock that Arlene couldn’t get over. It hardened her stance on life in a way that would come to affect her own family as the years went by, including the way she thought about her husband, a much more open man who could have helped her cope had she accepted his support.

The funny thing is, I knew a family like the Heartneys when I was a teenager, and though this isn’t their real story I took their dynamics and made up a story that seemed to fit them. And in that way they have become part of my own family history – someone who really existed and had a far-reaching effect on my life. I’ve never really stopped thinking about them.

I suppose that my family – hit with a difficult divorce when I was twelve and a pretty significant level of poverty that went with it – left an impression on others who were around at the time, wondering what our backstory was and how things got that way.

There’s always a timeline, a sequence of events. Family history is always a daisy chain of choices made along the way, and the consequences – good and bad – are what gets written down or photographed or just remembered in oral-history fashion. It can be inspiring, it can be cautionary, and it can be a source of pride, but it’s never just something that happened. It was created.

(And in the spirit of oral history, I use a hybrid point of view in this novel, with one of Arlene’s daughter’s telling the overarching story in first person but giving herself permission to tell us in third person about moments she wasn’t present for. It’s like leafing through a photo album but the pictures turn into YouTube clips before your eyes. We’ll see if it works for readers.)

The models for the Heartneys were the kind of people who, I could just tell, were going to have a hard time in life. I’ve tried to locate them over the years unsuccessfully, Googling the names I remember, but I was surprised one year when I went back to St. Louis, where they and I are from, to find that their house had been razed at some point and there was nothing there. No artifacts, no foundation. It was an empty lot. To look at it, you’d never know that a family had once lived there. Nothing about their history and their choices that had put them in that spot remained. Their choices might also have caused the loss of the house.

Who’s to say? That story will have to be a different novel.

KEVIN’S BLOG

KEVIN’S BOOKS