“Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” ~Jacob A. Riis
How many brilliant quotes there are, that have captured fully what it means to persevere in the face of adversity, to forge through the muck and mire. We know that in order to succeed we must hold our heads up high, ignore the internal and external critics, and listen only to that one small voice that whispers, as Saul Bellow so aptly put it, to hell with them…
Yet, there are a great many of us who don’t fear adversity: We even welcome it at times. What keeps us up at night, aside from that flash of inspiration that couldn’t possibly have struck at noon, is an expansive, all-encompassing, vast and eternal nothingness.
It’s the countless strikes of a chisel in stone, the incessant taps of our fingers on the keyboard—one small letter at a time. We work tirelessly, all the while knowing what’s below the surface and we wonder—pray, if death itself will feel sympathetic to our cause and allow us enough time to finish before we die. It’s a ticking clock that sounds in our souls like the saturnine toll of bells at a funeral.
As if these visions, these creations are tied to our eternity. As if our work creates more than life for us, but for those who pass on before us—into those very places we’ve always longed for, dreamed for. We’re accused of romanticism when nothing could be farther from the truth. There’s nothing romantic about it. To say that of another author, with any conviction, is to vitiate the act of written creation itself.
Sacrilege…It’s like eating your young.
There are moments, some stronger than others, when the mechanics of authorship get in the way of its purpose; when the strokes of the keys become more important than the words being formed and the story being told. Unlike most other arts, where brushes and canvases change, tools change and at any given time, something exists to justify the artist’s dedication to the work, for authors it’s mostly all in our heads.
There is a frenzy that accompanies this art form, a madness that is unique to us and the reason for it is the correlation to true creation. We are organic, finite beings—whether we choose to accept it or not. Just as trees and animals die, so will we and as we are crafting worlds, characters, we know this. We are forever in an unconcious race to beat mortality at its own game. It isn’t just that we’re chiseling stone…it’s the pervasive question of whether or not we’ll ever see what lies beneath, and even more so, will anyone else?
We aren’t fighting adversity, we’re fighting eternity. And some writers are comfortable seeing their work as merely work, however creative it may be. They don’t want to consider their attachment to it, or lack thereof. They can’t imagine penning anything without the casual formulas that create a plethora of material with a paucity of meaning. Do you feel that’s too harsh? Perhaps it is, but I’ve never been one for comity. If the observation is to be made, why make it flowery and soft? That, would be romanticizing. I’m not known for that either.
John Keats, my favorite poet, said it best:
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
before high piled books, in charactry,
hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
and think that I may never live to trace
their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
that I shall never look upon thee more,
never have relish in the faery power
of unreflecting love; — then on the shore
of the wide world I stand alone, and think
till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.”