Apologia

weir 2

Apologia pro vita mea
(for Ana)

          Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and I re-read the first story. I was soon dabbing my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose.

This morning, I want to destroy everything I have written. I know I don’t possess the verbal and emotional genius of the great writers and I sense that I cannot write like them. Graduate school taught me to be passive, not active, and to write impersonally, choking every emotion when I write. Academia also taught me how to kiss and how to run away with my thirty silver pence. “Never challenge the status quo,” my professors told me. “Learn the rules and disobey them at your peril.”

But here, in this private space where I create and re-create, there are no rules. The enemy is not clear any more and the fight is not one of black against white. It is rather a choice between diminishing shades of grey, and all cats are grey in the gathering dark that storms against my closing mind. Should I destroy all my writing? I won’t be the first to do so; nor would I be the last. And I won’t be the first or the last to destroy myself either. Intellectual, academic, and creative suicide: as total as the suicide of the flesh.

I carry on my back the names of those who have gone on before me as if they were a pile of heavy stones packed into a rucksack that I carry up a steep hill, day after day, only to find myself, next morning, starting at the bottom once again. But this is not the point: the point is that if I cannot write like the great writers, how can I write?

I think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his cronotopos, man’s dialog with his time and his place. I have no roots, no memories, and that is where my stories must start: in the loss of self, the loss of place, the loss of everything. I was uprooted at an early age, soon lost my foundations, and only survival mattered.

I look at the first page of one of my manuscripts. My writing manifesto is clear before me: “And this is how I remember my childhood,” I read. “Flashes of fragmented memory frozen like those black and white publicity photos I saw as a child in the local cinema. If I hold the scene long enough in my mind, it flourishes and the figures speak and come back to life.”

I am aware of the words of T. S. Eliot that “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it” (East Coker).

Are these stories an exercise in creativity or are they a remembrance of things past? How accurate is memory? Do we recall things just as they happened? Or do we weave new fancies? In other words, are my inner photographs real photographs or have they already been tinted and tainted by the heavy hand of creativity and falseness?

The truth is that I can no longer tell fact from fiction. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, rather, something that I just imagined. And perhaps every word of it is true.

I no longer know.

15 thoughts on “Apologia

  1. Hi Roger,
    It was so iteresting to read this on a chilly, for us in Australia, morning the temperature was 40 on Sunday and 18 today!
    Last night I attended a talk/interview with Tracey Emin the contemporary artist who is here for the Sydney biennial. She was talking about her latest book reviewing her work of the past decade. She said she experiences much the same thing every time a book like this is published, wanting to destroy her past work despite her success as a contempoary artist.
    She explained that she finds it difficult to start again after such a review but counters the negative feelings by
    getting into something she loves doing such as her sayings written in neon which she said some commentators think she has over done but SHE gets joy from making tbem and it gets the process going again. She also told us that nature inspires her and drawing that simple pleasure gives her new hope in her abilities and gets the creative juices going again. She is inspired by nature and took up drawing birds which resulted in her contribution to the Bienale bronze birds all over Sydney often perched on the shoulders of statues of august men of previous generations!
    By the way she said she writes 8 to 10 thousand words a week not a journal just because she loves it!
    Cheers Frances

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is a natural reaction for many creative artists. I think of the bird who scrapes his wings against the moon as he aims for the stars. I maintain the journal, I still take classes (doing one online right now), and I still give readings (last Sunday) and offer workshops (two more in May). I guess it’s like the song our grandfather used to sing during WWI: “And still I live in hopes to see, Swansea Town once more.” To create keeps us alive, to fail (however comparatively) gives that moment of despair, to create once more is to start to live again! I am so glad you are here with me, reading these pieces. Thank you so much. Roger.

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  2. Oh my God Roger! I get behind in my e-mail for one day and this is what I find when I catch up. I hope since you wrote this you have had a couple of good nights of sleep and are feeling better, because if you are insecure about YOUR writing, what am I to be? Do I need to come and kidnap your shredder?

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  3. This Theory of Relative Quality Writing must be the subject we delve into, when next we share a glass of wine. I’m looking forward to explaining, in my crude way, the power your writing has to transform folk like me. Cheers, Chuck

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    • Thank you, Chuck. You are indeed a good friend. I love the lines from Eliot. I used them as the introduction to an academic article on Quevedo’s revisions to one of his poems, I think it came out in the Modern Language Review, University of London (as it was then). He constantly rewrote and I analysed seven various rewrites to one sonnet. A fascinating process. As for that glass of wine …

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  4. I just read: “They have caught the words of snowflakes strung at midnight between the stars”; “Snow geese … spilled from the heavens … without them, … something dies in our hearts at season’s end.” Sentences written sixteen years ago by a man missing his homeland. I say it’s pretty good stuff; great stuff. Certainly glad no-one burned the books. Fundy Lines – Roger Moore

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  5. Oh my heavens, Roger so not destroy your writing! Those beautiful words and passages, whether memory or fiction deserve to live on. ….. Perhaps this Apologia is just one sort of example of your creative writing and not meant as a confession? (I hope?)

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