Monday, July 21, 2014

I blog like Leonard Cohen writes songs

Along the edge of the Contoocook River 7/14/14
CC Jean Stimmell
While not pretending to make any comparison between the content and creativity of Leonard Cohen’s songs and my blogs, I found out today that his writing process is similar to mine.

In an interview with Paul Zollo* in 1992, Cohen said: To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency… 

That’s exactly the impetus to my own writing: an image, idea, feeling or dream that speaks to me in a voice I can’t ignore; or, stated in the words of Martin Luther King, the fierce urgency of now.

Leonard Cohen: My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV... So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interests. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another.

So it is exactly with me: something out-of-the-ordinary must strike a swift blow to my head to silence the raucous troupe of chattering monkeys who spend most of my waking hours swinging wildly and uncontrollably around the neuron dendrite trees in my brain. 
What a neuron dendrite tree looks like,
 one of the vast forest of them living in my brain
Furthermore, my best blogs, unlike my monkey’s, don’t swing easily to me on the wings of inspiration, ready made and gift wrapped; instead, they arrive unformed and evolve with difficulty, accompanied by the angst, uncertainty, and throbbing pressure of giving birth. It’s only afterwards that I see what I got: a lively newborn or an inert stillborn. Either way, it is hard work.  It’s certainly true of my babies that lived, including many of my most popular blogs (which you find listed in the right hand column of this blog.) 

Leonard Cohen: So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.
But why shouldn't my work be hard? Almost everybody's work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I'm not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload. 

While it is undoubtedly true that the process takes a toll on many writers: "a lot of work and a lot of sweat" to write. But few could have it tougher than Gustave Flaubert:

"Sometimes I don't uderstand why my arms don't drop from my body with fatigue, why my brain doesn't melt away. I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates. I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly. Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don't come, when I find I haven't written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie there dazed, bogged own in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everthing has changed; my heart is pouding with joy. "**

An aside about my photography and its relationship to my writing: On occasion, the image that I photograph provides the fierce urgency for my writing. Sometimes the photograph comes to me easily, ready made, a free gift. Sometimes I have to work long and hard in Photoshop to bring out the essence of what I felt when I snapped the shutter, especially when I am creating an image that only exists in my mind’s eye like my manipulations and collages.
The photograph at the top of this piece I took July 14th while walking along the shore of the Contoocook River immersed in sea of purple pickerelweed.

 I took a lot of photos but none hit home until, out the infinitude, a certain dynamo of color and composition hit my eye; instantly I knew I had found a winner even before snapping the shutter. (See photograph at top of the page)

* The above quotes by Leonard Cohen from his interview with Paul Zollo came from Brain Pickings Weekly, an amazing compendium of intellect and wisdom collected by Maria Popova:

** this Faubert quote comes from pages 31-32 of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey: Alred Knopf, New York, 2013
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