I'm so pleased that my year ended with the publication of an essay that surprised me a bit. Since I wrote it, I've wondered: Where do essays come from?
I've pondered the question before and will again, and the answer is: from many sources. Some I will into existence (when I've accepted an unsought assignment), others emerge from the deleted sentences or passages of another piece of work. Sometimes I have an idea that asserts itself and I must pay attention; sometimes a memory trigger brings me a new idea, unbidden but clear.
I'm convinced, too, that a very few pieces wait, fully formed, lodged deep in my brain, until the right moment. I know only that there's a niggling in the back of my brain about….something…that has to do with….something. Then, a moment of recognition, a swift gravity plunge, from the brain's dusty attic, through my fingers to keyboard to computer screen.
I tell people that good work doesn't really materialize that way. That waiting for The Muse to visit, sprinkling writer fairy dust, is silly. Write, revise, rewrite—that's the ticket. That when someone says a piece "just wrote itself," they're exaggerating, lying, or forgetting the thinking, drafting, revising process.
But not always. These things occasionally do happen—rarely.
I'd thought before of writing something about my elder son's struggles as a small boy with audio issues—more than the three paragraphs I gave it in a long essay eight years ago. But it was a vague, quiet idea, always out-shouted by noisier, more insistent ones. Eventually I "forgot" about it.
Last summer, I saw that Synaethesia Magazine was planning a themed issue on Sound. I made note of it (on my office white board, where I write, and then sometimes erase, possible submission goals). Then I "forgot" about it. Except that I did look at that board every day, wondering, do I have anything to say about sound? My brain was quiet.
Until one morning, something (I can't remember what) clicked: sound…audio…my son… I sat at the keyboard and in about 20 minutes had the essay, written instinctively in second person. Where did it come from? My fingers were only a conduit, connecting nearly subconscious thought with memory, with the screen. (In itself unusual, because I typically start new essays in longhand.)
To check my theory that the piece "wrote itself" (see: exaggerating, lying, forgetting, above), yesterday I looked at my electronic files (I date and number drafts), and the paper file (I print out a lot, and keep my hand-scribbled notes). Only two drafts: the original, and one with very minor revisions.
Here's an excerpt from "Sound and Fury, Signifying"
…You begin to listen. What does a goose's honk sound like from a two-foot high perspective anyway? Why is the neighbor's fishpond pump glugging like that today, when yesterday it glugged a bit more softly, less rhythmically? What drives human beings to seek out (or just endure, when we have the choice) the frightening booms of fireworks, crashing decibels of hard rock concerts, the annoying din of crowded parties in small rooms.
There are no answers. There is listening therapy, exercises, practice, role-playing,
de-sensitization, speech therapy, exposure therapy, more.
There is your small child, your little boy, your son, your adolescent, your teenager, your young man, your college student, and he is coping, modifying his behavior, learning to understand his limits, his boundaries, his tolerance….
I hope you'll click over to Synaesthesia Magazine to read the whole piece (as essays go, it's on the short side), and also page through this visually beautiful journal to see what others have to say and show about sound.
With a year of writing looming ahead, I wish I knew for sure that I'd get to watch myself write another "gift from The Muse" essay, but of course I don't. And yet…