Monday, August 16, 2010


Many of us avoid writing because we worry about whether our words represent the truth. We don't feel that we can access The Truth, so we are paralyzed and don't want to write any of our thoughts down lest they be disproved. And yet that is part of the reason why we write them -- to test their true-ness. We write down words to hold on to them for a short time. Then the act of writing allows us to percolate them, to rub them up against other ideas, to transform them by manipulating them and seeing the possibilities.

Our attitude toward writing reflects whatever our attitude toward Truth is. If we believe that somewhere there exists Truth with a capital T and our job is to capture it and kill it and drag it home to feast on it, then committing words to paper is excruciating. We are like perfectionists to the extreme, afraid of commitment, unwilling to go part way until we can go all the way to absolute Truth in our words. As I write this, I am questioning every sentence, every phrase, each word.

If, on the other hand, we believe that truth is a little on the gray, slippery side, that it is not carved from cold marble but rather like a ball of dough that can be poked, that rises, that takes the shape of its container...then we are not so paralyzed about committing our thoughts to paper. We can play with our words a bit, not take ourselves quite so seriously, and in so doing, arrive at much more useful bits of truth. These truths can be discussed with others, and our thinking can be transformed by kneading in what we find out as we try ideas out loud and flavor them with discussion. Human beings were designed to talk about ideas. We came up with symbolic speech and alphabets, paper and ink, computers, internet: we ache to put our thoughts together in a big bowl and stir them.

Some of us, though, were raised and educated to believe, for example, that history books contain history, rather than someone's version of history. Some of us grew up believing that tables and walls are solid, with no space in them. Some of us believe what we hear on the news. It is only through great effort that we have learned to consider, critically, what is put on a platter and labelled, "Truth," to ask who is proposing it and what their interests are and who they would rather leave out. Once we learn to question any bit of truth, we can question all of it and learn to suspend our belief, to throw the beach ball in the air and talk about it, rather than place it on a pedestal and defend it to the death...or not commit it to words at all, keeping it locked away like a dirty secret.

If anything, the summer institute experience made me more willing to put my words on paper and think less about truth and more about moving closer to some truth. My favorite poetry coach told me that a poem should represent everything we know about a topic at the time that we are writing. So early on, then, I heard the message that truth is only truth for a little while, for then we gain more experience which alters that truth. The experience we gain is sometimes discussion of an idea with others. It is sometimes the careful placing of words on a page and the consideration of those words through time. It is sometimes the publication of our words and the response they bring from others after publication. We are wired to use these tools of language and technology. The belief in immutable truth, though, is something we can wrestle free from, at least in order to live more fully in a world that is changing quickly, more quickly each day.

All of this is to reassure myself, and all of us, that it is okay to put our thoughts out there where they can be read and considered. If someone does say, "But last year, you said...," I would have no problem describing the experiences that have changed my mind. Those who will not acknowledge the possibility of changing their minds, though: they frighten me. They are not using the brains we have, the language we use, to develop their thinking.

Are there beliefs I have now that I have held a long time? Yes, but I try not to be married to any belief so much that I cannot consider a new case that defies old standards. Oops, I have mentioned the S word, and that is fodder for another blog entry.

1 comment:

starwatcher236 said...

Other people have said this, but I wrote it to understand it better...