Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity
My father and I were really not great friends, until very late. His language, his thought, from day to day, was not remarkable, but whenever I said, “Dad, tell me about Tombstone when you were seventeen,” or “the wheatfields, Minnesota, when you were twenty,” Dad would begin to speak about running away from home when he was sixteen, heading west in the early part of this century, before the last boundaries were fixed — when there were no highways, only horse paths, and train tracks, and the Gold Rush was on in Nevada.
Not in the first minute, or the second, or the third minute, no, did the thing happen to Dad’s voice, did the right cadence come, or the right words. But after he had talked five or six minutes and got his pipe going, quite suddenly the old passion was back, the old days, the old tunes, the weather, the look of the sun, the sound of the voices, the boxcars traveling late at night, the jails, the tracks narrowing to golden dust behind, as the West opened up before — all, all of it, and the cadence there, the moment, the many moments of truth, and, therefore, poetry.
The Muse was suddenly there for Dad.
The Truth lay easy in his mind.
The Subconscious lay saying its say, untouched, and flowing off his tongue.
As we must learn to do in our writing.
As we can learn from every man or woman or child around us when, touched and moved, they tell of something they loved or hated this day, yesterday, or some other day long past. At a given moment, the fuse, after sputtering wetly, flares, and the fireworks begin.
Oh, it’s limping crude hard work for many, with language in their way. But I have heard farmers tell about their very first wheat crop on their first farm after moving from another state, and if it wasn’t Robert Frost talking, it was his cousin, five times removed. I have heard locomotive engineers talk about America in the tones of Thomas Wolfe who rode our country with his style as they ride it in their steel. I have heard mothers tell of the long night with their firstborn when they were afraid that they and the baby might die. And I have heard my grandmother speak of her first ball when she was seventeen. And they were all, when their souls grew warm, poets.