I’ve been reading Montaigne lately. I’m not sure why, but I was drawn to him on the bookshelf. During G-School I was introduced to his writing, but I wasn’t able to spend the time with him as I knew I should. Grabbing him from the bookshelf this last week has been a pleasure and a struggle.
While I appreciate the history lessons, I feel as if I need to read a few books just to prepare myself. Some of the characters are familiar–Cato, Caesar, Virgil (during college I did have my hands on Virgil’s poetry for a while)–But how did Cato interact with Caesar? or did he?
What I enjoy about Montaigne is his ability to sometimes write about simple things. Reading Montaigne has been a good reminder of the simplicity of an essay. It doesn’t have to dive for ideas to the bottom of the ocean. It doesn’t have to grab ideas from the moon. To borrow, slightly, from E.F. Schumacher: simple is beautiful.
There’s something special about a short essay, perhaps stemming from the popularity of flash fiction today. I think Montaigne is particularly appealing to me because I’ve been working too hard in the long form lately–a personal essay collection. In fact I could easily argue that I’ve been working on the long form for the past six years, but the last year, and the last six months have been the most significant work.
I think most artists would agree that it is nice to have something to tinker on. In fact, tinkering, revision is my favorite part of writing. A few weeks ago I realized I had tinkered enough. I needed a break.
I once heard a poet who I admire describe how he writes bad poems sometimes. He could re-work it into a good poem, but sometimes, he said, it’s best to let it go. Sometimes it’s best to move on.
Moving on can be helpful, especially for something as time consuming as writing. It’s hard to put the time into a new project if you continually revise an old. I’m trying to move from one book project to the next, and I needed an ending to the last project.
The other day I shot my manuscript; a fun attempt at an ending. Click here for photos.
I bought a moose rifle last winter, after moose season, and hadn’t yet fired it. Last winter was hard on moose in the area. I don’t think I will have a chance at one this year, but I thought it would be good to know if the gun worked.
I live in a rural area and was able to shoot just a short walk from home. My neighbor, who knew what I was up to, stopped me on the way home. We watched the sun move behind the clouds. She talked about a clay artist friend who used to meet students at gravel pit, and they would blast away at bad pots or pots that just weren’t right. Something was off about them.
And that’s how I feel about manuscript. Something is off. There’s a lot of good ideas in there. Sometimes I surprised myself at my ability to channel Thoreau, Stegner, and Abbey. As far as shooting at the manuscript, I think Thoreau would be disappointed. “Wasteful,” he would say then turn and go for a walk. Stegner would recount the history of my gravel-bar shooting range and then describe how the shooting was insignificant to the region but a milestone in the writer’s life. And Abbey. Yes, Abbey would join me and make fun of my shooting stance while he blasted away.
After college, I sold or trashed nearly everything I owned except for my books and the possessions I could keep in a backpack. I did the Europe thing then ended up spending a summer in Alaska. After my first G-School, I built a great fire from all the notes and papers I had written, including journals. Maybe I have a little bit of Christopher McCandless in my personality. Maybe I respond well to purging things that are weighing me down.
I have another book project that I’m trying to work on. It’s good. I think it is much more sell-able than a book about Denali, but I have a really big problem: I’m not a very good shot with a moose rifle.
I have a 7-can BB gun course in my backyard. No problems with any of those targets. My manuscript hanging on a tree turned out to be a big problem. I walked closer and closer and closer. From a distance so near I’m embarrassed to admit, I finally hit the corner of the manuscript. I don’t feel that I really hit it. If it were a moose, it would have been a minor flesh wound.
Generally I’m a good shot, so I think the Universe didn’t want me to put the Denali book away. Perhaps the next try will be more simple and beautiful.