Saturday, November 6, 2010

refreshing what is stale

When I worked in book publishing, I was once assigned to go to an author's house and read all of his previous magazine articles with an eye to creating a book -- something that would provide some exposure and income while he worked on his big book about a former presidential contender, Adlai Stevenson.

John Bartlow Martin was a gracious host, as I recall. He gave me the materials I needed and space in which to read them. I stayed the weekend.

At one point, over a meal, I asked him why he had given up writing magazine articles. His were so good, I just couldn't imagine giving up that fertile field. And he gave me an answer I never forgot:

"I started to write like John Bartlow Martin."

Not AS John Bartlow Martin, but LIKE John Bartlow Martin.

What a good description of skills and convictions held so long that suddenly they become stale and repetitive and imitative and rote. Loving not because you love but because you once loved. Hating not because you hate but because you once hated. Doubting not because you doubt but because you once doubted.

It can be a jolt, finding yourself reprising something that no longer quite fits, that lacks whole-heartedness, that is held onto because the alternative is unknown and, well, maybe scary. Like a computer, you may need a "refresh" function, but touching the key takes more energy or courage than you possess.

Such doubts can drive anyone further down the rabbit hole, re-emphasizing the very habit that doesn't quite hold water any more. If you re-emphasize it, perhaps what was once true will become true again.

Better than re-emphasis, I think, is to let the genie that is already out of the bag out of the bag. Just let it be confused and uncertain ... and see what happens. Just care for this new and uncertain world ... and see what happens.

What the hell -- you are who you are even when you don't know who you are.


  1. You are who you are wheither ... But genkaku? What about suffering? Can you clarify, later on if you can, what solution you have to our problem?

    It is easy for you, but not eqully easy for reader to know the solution ... or are we to find it out ourselves according to you?

    My take is that it takes precisely courage and doubt as you always have precicely precised to live this life fully. And genkaku, i am hurt and about to shed some tears when i think of this. Not shedding tears, but i got really sad.

  2. Nailed it! Thnx....

  3. the new and uncertain world shouts out to me that, the people are still suffering, but just in a different state as the previous world.