Going Cosmic–The Power of Writing Practice
Jack Remick & Robert J. Ray
Writing practice, writing under the clock, frees you from the clutches of the infernal ghost in the culture machine – the editor. The editor, wrapped in rules and logic, dresses up like mom, and dad, and the third grade teacher who taught you to dot your I’s and cross your T’s, and begin every sentence with a capital letter. The editor, logic posing as a rocket scientist puts astronauts on the moon, builds atomic bombs, creates architectural marvels out of steel and concrete and glass – but the editor cannot open the doorway to the creative unconscious. Helpless in the clutches of the ghost in the culture machine, the language dies a cold, cold death.
The dead language is all around us. It is around us in Pentagon obfu-speak, it is around us in oprahesque-tele-babble, it is around us in politico-pseudo-psycho chatter, it is around us in the punchless wonders of thickly paragraphed novels marching over the edge of the world like literary lemmings – weak verb, soft noun, zero conflict, washed out, pale skinned three-legged lemmings.
With writing practice, writing under the clock, you shoulder the dead language aside to discover the energy of your creative powers.
The dead language:
“He slipped out of the room to look for the clock, and by his movement and assuredness she could tell he had recently taken morphine, was refreshed and precise, with his familiar confidence. She sat up and smiled when he came back shaking his head with wonder at her accuracy.”
In the dead language words skim over the surface of the writing– “He slipped out of the room to look for the clock.” In the dead language subjunctive or conditional verbs slip and slide over image hidden under adverbs: “…she could tell he had recently taken…”
Recently: In the last half hour? when?
Taken: Injected? Swallowed? Rubbed on his tongue? Sniffed? Inserted in a suppository? What’s going on here? The writer uses the dead language to behind concepts with no specific detail: …[he] was refreshed and precise, with his familiar confidence.”
Refreshed and precise? Familiar confidence? The POV slides around in a mushy slop of ambiguity, ambiguity that distances the reader from the event: “She sat up and smiled when he came back shaking his head with wonder at her accuracy.” The reader wonders who is wondering what and where and when and why and and and…
Writing practice is technique burning through the wall of the Iron-clad Editor with an acetylene torch. Writing practice gouges holes in the pitiful defenses the editor erects around the dead language. Writing practice is rhetoric and verb and noun slammed through the thick air of the world until words catch fire and rage and burn and sizzle and cry out like whimpering angels crisped by hot winds. Writing practice takes you to the poetry at the center of the language. Writing practice rips off the dry husk of the known and plunges you into the vibrant, juicy,slick, white-hot and black pathways of no road maps left in the world.
Writing practice is technique. One technique is chaining. Chaining repeats words like links in a chain. Repetition is an echo that locks first word to last word like this. This, a word, ends that sentence and starts this one. One technique is chaining. Chaining spins you out of orbit. Orbital slewing veers off into uncharted fields, fields ripe with metaphor. Metaphor hinges into the cosmic. Cosmic links your heart beat to the passion and emotion of sacrifice. Sacrifice the known to chaining and chaining opens the door between horizon and vertical writing.
You plunge. You dip. You soar. You hurt. You flounder. You ache with unknowing. But you write with power and vigor because you don’t have anything else to hold onto.
All you have are words. Words. A reporter asked Samuel Beckett: “Why do you write if there’s nothing to say?” And Beckett said, “Because words are all we have. All we have.”
Writing practice takes you cosmic.
It works this way: Weak verbs make you complacent:
“She could tell he had recently taken morphine.”
Strong verbs pull you into metaphor:
“Come and see if you can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ bed, unerringly, I rush!”
Here Melville goes cosmic. The object of metaphor is to go cosmic. Cosmic means you dig into the subtext of the passion to find the universal link between your heart and your own swelling desire and the love of the world. You connect. Borges said he loved the military censor because it forced him to write in metaphor. In Clea, Lawrence Durrell, writing about love-sick guerrilla warriors, lifts his story into a cosmic metaphor about the artist and pain and disfigurement and the ugly, scarred artist working with inadequate reality to create absolute beauty.
Verbs. Nouns. Metaphor. Technique. Chaining. Writing practice. Training for the Cosmic Leap. You train your hand with technique to take the live feed from the universal donor called the creative unconscious, and by training your hand with technique – chaining, short sentence, anaphora, LSR (long sentence release), repetition – you train yourself in the excesses of power, and after you train yourself in the excesses of power, you train yourself to handle language the way Cormac McCarthy handles chaining and repetition in The Crossing:
“They crossed in that deep twilight a broad volcanic plain bounded within the rim of hills. The hills were a deep blue in the blue dusk and the round feet of the pony clopped on the gravel of the desert floor.”
“When the flames came up her eyes burned out there like gatelamps to another world. A world burning on the shore of an unknowable void. A world construed out of blood and blood’s alcahest and blood in its core and in its integument because it was that nothing save blood had power to resonate against that void which threatened to devour it.”
And then you train yourself to write like Melville:
“They think me mad – Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and – Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That’s more than ye, ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes!”
And then you train yourself to write like a Biblical Saint:
“Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. and they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another: they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.”
And then you train yourself to write like Shakespeare:
“Your brother and my sister no sooner met, but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy: and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage which they will climb incontinent, or else be incontinent before marriage.”
“Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,’ the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care…”
You dive into writing practice to train yourself to break the mood of despair and to open the doorway to the living language. You plunge into writing practice to learn rhythm. You write like a biblical saint or Shakespeare or Melville because you want repetition and chaining to build to the climax, the break-away point of the sentence, the paragraph, the stanza, the verse, the book, the chapter.
Writing practice means rhythm. A beat. Like a hammer. Fiery hammered language that lives in the rhythm of a hammered dulcimer and the stomp of dancing feet and the beating of a heart. Writing practice resurrects the language from the wasteland of modern zero meaning utterances. Writing practice takes you out of the ordinary by training you to see the great chain from the minuscule to the cosmic.
You do not want to chain an entire book or an entire paragraph but you do want to break through to the rhythm under the language. The living language has hair on it. The living language breathes. The living language snorts and bucks. The living language grows goosebumps on the back of your neck.
“Among the fairgoers in that little park of dried mud and starveling trees were visitors more alien than even he, families in rags that moved agape among the patched canvas pitchtents and Mennonites got up like medicineshow rubes in their straw hats and bib overalls and a row of children halted half dumbstruck before a painted canvas drop depicting garish human abnormalities and Tarahumara indians and Yaquis carrying bows and quivers of arrows and two Apache boys in deerskin boots with grave and coalblack eyes who’d come from their camp in the sierras where the last free remnants of their tribe lived like shadowfolk of the nation they had been and all of them with such gravity that the shabby circus of their beholding could as well have been the pageantry of some dread new dispensation visited upon them.” (McCarthy, LSR 139 words).
Go deep, go cosmic. Do timed writing using startlines that take you into the unknown.