I have the hands of a writer—a callous on my right ring finger, arthritis in that wrist from holding a pen for decades. If I could, I’d be buried pen in hand, or perhaps my ashes should be scattered upon the white page. Musicians, singers need to take great care of their hands and voices. Might writers need to do the same?
I think yes. There have been too many times when I’ve needed to wear a splint because of my arthritis, but still I must write in long hand, use the perfect pen as I crave the beauty and silence of the white page. My pen is fat, like a black cigar, the fatter the barrel, the less the pain. The labor is long for me, always intense. Once a friend commented that I possessed a serene intensity. O how I wish I could say that about my work.
Most writers compose on the computer, run the risk of carpal tunnel injuries, but there is a subtler and much harder thing to protect and that is voice. It takes years to develop one’s own voice, it can’t be taught, yet is critical to the work. How to explain what voice is—that fingerprint made manifest on the page—how it must run the scales all the way up, all the way down? Musicians practice their scales constantly and although it may not seem evident, writers do, too.
I believe that I protect my voice. Singers drink tea and honey; I drink silence. It is the parenthesis I put around the start and the end of my writing time. I even use ear plugs to deepen the stillness. I write best when I’ve not spoken a word to anyone before I sit down to work. Every morning—early, early—I take a rigorous walk by the sea. This is not just physical exercise, it is my pre-writing time wherein I focus on both my interior and exterior landscapes. Words come while I walk, fetal words that I can then birth on the page.
For the writer then, I suggest that silence, not death, is the mother of all beauty. Sometimes I can’t even read another’s work when I’m deeply engaged in a particular book because of the risk of influences, of letting other voices over-ride my own. I observe silence, practice it like a cloister nun. I don’t even own a television, rarely go to movies. Instead, when I surface out of my long silences, I listen to classical music and lots of it.
One might ask why classical music? Because of its gorgeous architecture, because I love the sheer beauty of sound as it gives me a wordless but deep and direct expression of the human experience. Music and silence then are the best creators of what I hope is my singular voice.
The other great guardian of the written word is solitude. When I’m lonely, I don’t write well. When I’m deep within the honey hive of solitude there comes sustenance and lyric grace. Solitude is food for the soul, a great maker of great heart, and voice the instrument through which poetry is played. I must create from that holy trinity of heart, soul and voice, that rich roux that makes, or at least has the capacity to make us whole.
I once wanted to hang the mask of tragedy and comedy on either side of the door to my study as the true governors of my art. Now there is a third. I perceived it after seeing a local theater production called Love, which uses two poems from my fourth book, My Life as a Doll, and that is the word love. To write well one must love it all—the dark, the light and everything in between. Therefore another holy trinity—tragedy, comedy, love.
I close with lines jotted in many of my notebooks: “The voice is a door to exquisite happenings. That’s why one must ring the doorbell many times.” May the writing always be an exquisite happening and may that door when it fully opens, be an opening into spring churches and sanctuaries wherein writers are protected like an endangered species, which we might very well be. As well, as I wrote in that self-same notebook, “let no one say they suffer from too much creation” and may all our utterances “be a brief summation of the supreme.”