I am reading an essay I’ve read many times before. It’s a travel piece, but it’s also a discourse on philosophy an exposition of the human soul in all its basic forms as told through the lens of a journey from war to sunshine.
How is it, that when we read a piece like this, one that we’ve tread over many times… we find ourselves caught up in just a few words that seem to have slipped our attention. This turns into a sudden realization, a spark of profound insight which ignites the imagination and calls us to do the bidding of the universe or in some cases to bend the universe to our will.
Or, it could be that this coffee is a bit too strong.
Still, the words are beautiful. The author wraps history, philosophy, and anthropology into a portrait of an entire people. It’s a romanticized version, but it is obviously quite stirring.
I am writing about a series of essays by D.H. Lawrence, but in particular The Lemon Gardens. I’ve read this essay at least half a dozen times, mostly because the title pleases me and I have a idealized image of estate Lawrence describes between musings on the nature of the Italian soul. You might read the essay and think it is pure pap, but that’s because you don’t see what I see. If I were a better writer, I would take the time to describe this to you. I would certainly not tell you outright my feelings about the piece. I would never be so direct, though in fact I would be precise by the manner of my investigation.
This is how Lawrence goes about telling the reader what he wants them to feel. He gently slips the emotion into your consciousness by framing it within a distraction. I imagine that if he were to put the technique into words, it would sound a little like this:
“Look at this thing. I tell you something about it, which is actually something about yourself. You will not hear it that way because I have not addressed it to you directly, but you will feel a kinship. As a result, it will come to be a part of you.”
I doubt that Lawrence would ever be so direct. I doubt that any writer worth their pen would be so direct. Thankfully, I am not that sort of author.
You might ask why I felt compelled to write this little piece today. I am curious as well. It is a sunny morning. The rains of the past few days have left everything smelling fresh and slightly damp. There is a cool breeze that comes and goes. I have the aforementioned coffee which, upon further reflection, really does need to be stronger. I should be content to sit and read one of my favorite essays in the languorous way I imagine I used to read on days like this some time ago.
But I’m not.
I’m not content to merely read the essay for the umpteenth time. I am not content to merely dream that I am Lawrence standing on the terrace of the Church of San Tommaso. I am not content at all really. I am restless and and annoyed. I am annoyed at the coffee, yes, but I am annoyed to be Aware.
For awhile now, I’ve been Not Writing. This is the serious sort of Not Writing which involves no actual writing. There are no words that need writing. No thoughts that need sorting out. There is nothing.
I’ve known about this for some time, but I’ve let it slide into a state of being that comes from allowing distractions to pile up and clutter the mind. They are the worst sort of distractions too. They are distractions against which little or nothing can be done. They are disactions.
Awareness of distractions like this could easily lead to anger and rash action. It can lead to changes which are dangerous and destructive. It can also lead to a manic burst of creativity. I don’t believe any of this is really helpful to any writer.
Writing is a long game. It is measured in persistence and constant progress toward the goal. Flashes of insight (hopefully brilliant) may puncture the wall from time to time, but generally speaking it is slow, diligent work that leads to the creation of something worthwhile.
The same could be said for reading an essay like The Lemon Gardens. It is a pleasant piece which could be read quickly and enjoyed, but to be appreciated fully it must be read slowly with a considered eye.
How do you create a slow and considered practice? Is there time for such art in today’s world?