I was a late-blooming college freshman at the age of 35 in an English Education major at SUNY Oneonta, New York, when I first came across the “title” quote attributed to E.M Forster. Immediately, I was captivated. I felt a surge of energy buzzing through me as I connected with what Forster was saying, because I was uncovering the same thing:
The writing process is a mining operation of the mind.
I was discovering that the act of putting words down on paper in an effort to express myself was the way to tap a continuous flow of thoughts and ideas that lay in my subconscious. I could make the discoveries of what was beneath the surface of my waking consciousness and “see what I say” by writing. I didn’t even have to know exactly what I wanted to write about, but if I was willing to sit down and begin the process one word at a time, I would be humming along in a matter of minutes. Even if all I wrote down was, “I really don’t how to approach this writing assignment, but here I am throwing down whatever comes to mind…etc,” otherwise known as free writing. After this happened to me enough times I learned to trust the process.
Today I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper anymore, thank goodness! I jump right in and start saying what’s on the surface and before long what I am thinking at the subconscious level finds its way word by word in front of me. Pretty cool, right?
Let me share an example.
At one time in my life I worked as an orthopedic brace maker. One day a strange experience happened to me en route to deliver a brace at North Shore Community Hospital on Long Island where my patient was waiting. That day I had a few thoughts rumbling around my mind of what I had been feeling, that was it. But the impression of it on my consciousness was a whole lot bigger, as I would soon find out.
I exited my car in the parking lot and sat in a walkway bench waiting for a few minutes to pass. Not a fan of hospitals, but having to work in them on occasion had me thinking about a possible hospital stay I would need to make based upon a diagnosis my doctor had recently given me.
At that moment, somewhere in the parking lot someone began to blast Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on their car stereo. The trills of the violin filled the parking lot and stayed with me as I walked through the halls of the hospital. On the surface that seemed to be it – a captivating tune that made me feel something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and yet, there was something beyond my few thoughts and that simple experience that was in my consciousness. Something much bigger kept gnawing at me, just under the surface for many days after.
I had to do something about it. I needed to “see what I was thinking” to discover what it was.
I wrote the experience into a poem, Outside the University Hospital and Many Waters Poetry magazine ended up picking it up for publication in 1996:
Outside the university hospital
hunched in a wooden bench, waiting
for some final words on what may be
an untimely burial of certain parts of me,
I am thinking of nothing on purpose
to fool my adrenal glands
which are now addicted to fear
for treating too many illnesses
when somewhere out of the tar
and metal of the parking lot trills
come winding and sliding
from a violin concerto
into the hospital air
go spinning the nerves
and I am thinking again as strings
of Vivaldi down my spine winding
his “Four Seasons” note for note
into my flesh, and parts of a long-forgotten year
dance in the blood of my mind.
As the seasons play the large expanse of day
shrinks slowly into essential minutes
until I am summoned inside,
and all the way up I am thinking of nothing
while Vivaldi is demanding moments
to invent themselves, to save themselves
As I heard the music that day, an eerie feeling descended upon me. Music that had been written over 250 years earlier was floating through the air and into my mind, today. It made me think about the countless ears that had tuned into this same music over the centuries. This was the initial thought I couldn’t get out of my head. I couldn’t really lay hold of why it was affecting me. In later days, as I wrote down the impressions I had on paper, the above poem and the meaning of what I had experienced began to take shape.
Here I was, facing a minor health crisis that threatened my well-being while walking into a hospital, where no doubt some other poor patient would breathe his last. And all the while the music of Vivaldi, a man who had passed away centuries ago, followed me from the parking lot.
As I put down the words on paper I began to see what it was on the edge of my mind! The comparison between the temporariness of human life and the permanence of the art form left behind by the artist. Vivaldi would live on through his art form indefinitely into the future and continue to influence many people despite his death. The sounds that he created centuries ago would sound in the lives of people in every generation.
This is the power of art!!
I was all the more motivated to complete the poem, thinking of it as an artifact of my own existence on the planet. Had I not begun to write down simple initial thoughts about the experience I would never have discovered this gem of truth and would have lost the opportunity to create my own work of art.
How many poems, short stories, novels, and memoirs are locked up inside of you waiting to be released as you sit down to write and see what you say?
Stop “killing time while you wait for life to shower you with meaning and happiness” and start writing today!