one path through the wilderness

In The Living Mountain, excerpted in Ali Smith’s fascinating anthology The Book Lover, Nan Shepherd describes the moment when flowing water becomes frozen: “…the struggle between frost and the force in running water is not quickly over. The battle fluctuates, and at the point of fluctuation between the motion in water and the immobility of frost, strange and beautiful forms are evolved.” She could have been describing the process of writing. In the process of evoking a particular truth, new truths emerge, in the capturing of “the moment of equilibrium between two elemental forces,” the writer and the world. The moment of fluctuation becomes the moment of equilibrium as the writer makes the choices, transforming the endless torrent of beautiful possibilities into something new and unusual; finding its one true form; or at least, the form that is true in that moment. It’s tempting to say the process is never truly over. As writers we observe our chosen world flowing around us while we stay still; when the moment is right, we reach out to feel, and to bring something of that world back to the page. The wild rush of life in motion is given permanence, a lasting shape in words. It’s a process that we return to, that we obsess over, giving form to dreams. As Neil Davidge, one of the fundamental figures behind the group Massive Attack, has said, “I’ve locked myself away for days to stay in the same emotional place, capture something, and see a piece of music through to the end. You’re always chasing what you imagine in your head, so you just keep going.” The elemental forces: reality and creation. In the song Life Itself from his recent album Working On A Dream, Bruce Springsteen evokes the first of those forces: “You were life itself, rushing over me, life itself, the wind in black elms…” He wants us to feel the reality of the character, and so he takes that wildness and gives it a smooth form, choosing just one of the infinite ways he could have used; taking one path through the wilderness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s