An experiment in accountability

Consider this website an experiment. If it keeps me accountable to the work, it will have been successful. If it merely calls attention to me, it’s an exercise in vanity. It’s the work that counts.

The work is writing. It’s bracing to tell people, “I’m a writer,” not merely someone who wants to have written. It makes public a practice done largely in private. It’s a commitment to let go of one’s babies before they’re perfect, which they were never going to be anyway. Like exchanging marriage vows before witnesses, it entrusts friends with the task of holding you to your word through dry spells and trying times. It surrenders the narcotizing reassurance that, if you fail to write, no one but you will notice.

I make writing harder than it needs to be, another way in which writing is like marriage. But like marriage, its makes no sense without love.

Writing is a way of making sense of things, a way that helps me live more fully in an achingly beautiful world. It calls attention to the telling detail that demands to be rendered in words. Writing at its most vibrant is the fruit of wonder, a record of encounters with mystery.

Writing that loses its way in abstraction, that merely gestures toward the material world, does no good work. Writing that ignores the body is stillborn. As Emily Dickinson famously said to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in their only face to face encounter, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

Most writing is received by the intellect. Great writing is also received in the body, where breath’s airy coolness meets the blood’s pulsing heat. The writers whose work I most admire strive to touch that confluence of blood and breath.

Writing is a way of knowing and unknowing, an attempt: precisely what Montaigne had in mind in calling his favorite form the “essay.” He knew ignorance was his strong suit, that the sum of his knowledge was precious little indeed. I take for granted that most of what I write – perhaps every word – will fail. I hope for the grace to learn from my many failures.

Writing is not so much a struggle against limits as a struggle within the limits of language (what words can’t capture), comprehension (what minds can’t grasp), and experience (what one life can’t claim). As with any art, writing is sharpened and intensified by limits and obstructions. Without limits, the effort collapses, drips away, like so much custard nailed to the wall.

Consider this website an experiment, an essay that hopes to generate, if only on rare occasion, something worth reading, that engages body and mind, that calls attention to the things of this world, that is both the fruit of and an invitation to wonder. Nothing of the sort will be achieved without consistent hard work. I ask you to hold me accountable. Let’s see what we discover together.