by Zinta Aistars
I do not regret the tossing of words, of many pages, of thick files, of the time spent ordering sentences in the meticulous construction of a manuscript. I have done it many times before. Indeed, I think it may well be the secret, not so well hidden, of acceptable writing and surely the requirement of good writing and the harsh reality of great writing: that far more words end up in the proverbial wastebasket, or, in today’s technology, lost in the ether that pulses just below the DELETE key, than remain on the page for reading.
It is all about knowing what to cut away, what to slice, dice, chip off, whittle into sawdust, carve into curls that land on the floor at your feet, rip away the extra layers, peel back the hides, sculpt away the extraneous, trim the fat, and drill down to the very core. Here is the pearl. The golden heart. The treasure.
I do that.
And am sometimes left with nothing. But the dusty trace of path taken wrong. It was the other path at the fork in the road I should have taken. Yet no regrets, for every adventurer will also tell you—as much, or more, is learned by exploring the mistaken route as when taking the right turn right away.
I warrant the guess that the writer who is cruel in her pursuit of literary perfection has tossed 99 percent of all written words and kept the one. After writing another 99, kept a second. Until that place is reached that few will find for sheer persistence. It is a necessary cruelty in pursuit of the kindest word.
Nor do I know if I will pass the test. I am still lost in the woods, bread crumb trails scattered to the four winds. I have not even kept the two golden words. Not even the one. I stand with empty palms lifted to sky and open myself to the voices that may fall down upon me. I listen to the air, ear cocked to the breeze, to see what it will whisper to me. I watch the changing of the light to see what the shadows might write across the earth, if any of it will call my name. I stare into the tea leaves in the bottom of my cup and find only mess. I tap the keys, I hold the pencil in my hand, and allow for the flex of delicate string of muscle and tendon, as if holding the divining stick that will tremble in the hand when it senses cool and refreshing water deep, deep below…
… waiting for the word that has not yet come.
In preparation, the mind wields its own work. In those subconscious depths, I see her emerge, ever so slowly, from the murk of the dark below and the dark inside. I listen for her name. It changes. She tries hard to fool me. Takes me down those wrong pathways and submerged tunnels that end up at a hard wall. No way out. But back again.
I am earning her trust as she earns mine. She is the character that will appear in these words yet unwritten, and I coax her to me. Like a beaten animal, she scents the air for my intention, and I hold out my hand, my outstretched fingers, for her to feel warmth, kindness. For her to know: I will treat her with utmost respect. I will love her. I promise this.
So I love her into the light, and she begins to speak, and our conversations weave into ever longer exchanges. Because I listen, she speaks more. Because I understand, she at last begins to speak the truth. We are getting closer.
I give her a name that at last she is willing to accept. I promise to throw away all that I have written so far, and she nods in approval, because by now we both know, there was nothing there of value. Well trod paths, too many footsteps there, no discoveries left.
Then it occurs to me. She will like this, I am sure of it. I will set aside time for the two of us to talk without interruption. She has left bread crumb trails of her own for me to follow, and has spoken of a place she loves as she loves little else—and she knows I love this place, too—and we arrange a time away together.
“You’re traveling solo again?” a friend asks me.
“Solo? Ah. No.”
My friend tips his head to one side in surprise. “Not alone? But I thought…”
“Oh. Yes. Alone, yes. I am going north alone. With my notebooks, my books. Yes. Solo.”
He shakes his head in confusion, shrugs shoulders in acceptance of my rambling, but I am doing more of that now, speaking in tongues, bumbling nonsense, losing the language of one world even while I enter the shimmering and seductive layers of another. My mind is drawing in, ever in, and I speak more now to the voices inside than to the ones around me.
I make the reservation for time away in the Keweenaw, because, I now know, it is where she lives, that hidden woman inside, and we will meet there. We will talk. Time will no longer be of essence. The clock will hold its hands still, so that ours may open. She will speak, and I will transcribe, and if that delicate balance holds, the words that will emerge from this communion will not need to be tossed away. Not this time.