Writing as Art

In a conversation with my meditation teacher this week I shared with him my concern that my meditation practice had somehow disrupted my writing practice, and it was pretty damned disconcerting.

It’s the words, I told him. They’re too hard. Not difficult, but fixed and certain and inflexible. I type them and they become lies right before my eyes. Nothing is as it seems. Especially words.

Perhaps I’d over-invested in the concept of impermanence to the detriment of my work. Or perhaps there was nothing more to say beyond, “Everything is changing, always.”

In early spring, when I was a couple months into my meditation practice and hadn’t written anything for weeks, I thought, It’s spring. All the fruit is hard right now. Nothing is ripe. Just abide. Then the weeks became months and spring became summer.

That’s a long time to wait for fruit to ripen.

My teacher sat with my concern for a moment. Then he said, “I’m not an artist, so I have no experience with this phenomenon. Let me consider it, and we can talk again.”

We parted, and I went off to ponder our conversation. Specifically, I went off to ponder his characterizing of writing as art. More specific still, to ponder the idea of my writing as art.

I don’t consider my writing to be art. The stuff I make on my easel is art, the music I play is art, but my writing is… something else. Oddly enough, the stuff I think of as my art hasn’t suffered from my meditation practice. It has, in curious fact, flourished.

Which led me to wonder what would happen if I considered the writing to be art.

Would I approach it differently? Would I experience it differently?

And if so, what would that approach, that experience, look like?  Feel like?

There’s a chance it would look and feel like this: Back in April, I was at a friend’s music studio, and there was a piano there. I mentioned I’d always wanted to learn to play, and she sat me down and showed me a few chords and how to find them up and down the keyboard. In a matter of minutes she had unlocked the mystery of the piano for me.

In the weeks since then I’ve spent long, uninterrupted stretches noodling around on my daughter’s old Casio keyboard, making piano music because now I can.

I have no piano agenda. There is no goal except to play. Which is to say, beyond the fact that the hands on the keys are mine, and the pleasure is mine, there is not a lot of “me” at stake in my piano-playing. I’m a rank beginner and I love it. I may be doing it all wrong and I don’t care. I can tell I’ve gotten better over time, but I’m not playing for the purpose of getting better. I’m just playing.

Suffice it to say, I don’t usually come at my writing from this perspective. My writing seldom feels like play. It almost always has a goal, a raison d’ etre that supersedes the simple act of writing, and that goal is usually serious. I write for some purpose.

Maybe the lesson here is that I don’t need to. Maybe that’s what’s getting in the way.

Can you relate to this idea? Even if you’re not an artist, can you relate to the concept of playing just to play? My meditation teacher may not be an artist, but I know he goes on long bicycle rides on the weekends. When he’s out on his bike, I suspect he isn’t riding to get to the end of the ride. He’s riding to ride.

Can we write for the same reason, for the joy of wading deep into the clear, cold river of words?

It’s the infinite game, is it not?

Anyway, I don’t know if this attempt to reconsider my writing as art will help me to do the work. I do know that I never think about my sessions at the piano or in the studio in terms of getting the work done, whereas I often think of my writing in exactly those terms. Maybe as a first step, I can stop doing that, and see what happens.

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