The Tyranny of Results

Day Two of the 30/30 and I can feel the creeping press of two pernicious forces. First is a utilitarian approach to experience. I’m reading, and while one part of my mind takes in the Michael Mott poem, another part is sizing up how I can “use this for my writing.” It’s a grasping after “material,” rather than an attentive engagement with the events, impressions, and feelings of life. When the outer experience aligns with inward resonances,  a “constellation” forms. Here’s how Denise Levertov puts it in “Some Notes on Organic Form”:

I think it’s like this: first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech.

We can attune ourselves to this resonant moment when experience rings with some sense of significance, but I don’t think we can induce it. Allowing for it through alertness is far more important, and the key is trust: trust that our lives are rich and that the world gives and gives. To always be on the hunt for stuff to use in our writing puts me in very different relation to my experience, one fueled by hunger, not gratitude.

The other force creeping into my mindset as I dive into the work is a hyper-awareness of results. I’ve even pictured the final look of a poem, and I can see the square rooms of the 4-line stanzas, but I haven’t even started writing yet. Sometimes, I have a thought, away from my notebook or while scribbling, about those who are reading the poem-a-day posts, how my own stuff will go together or how my poem will fit in with the others posting. Oh boy! That results-orientation is deadly to creating!

At the very least, it brings in variables I have no control over–or I might not even know–and so rather than being forces that help shape perception and language, these kinds of concerns mis-shape or simply stifle that exploration. It’s a kind of abstraction, and “intellectualization closes many doors,” says John Daido Loori. (I highly recommend his book The Zen of Creativity from which this selection comes.) Focusing on results complicates the process, mostly by skipping over the whole creating bit.

And so, I find myself trying to simplify, to follow rather than direct, to be faithful to those resonant moments by being disciplined about having my notebook handy. Then I can explore, and that’s the phase where I try this and see what it does and how it sounds. I need to return to the messy unknown of making.