Saturday, February 25, 2006


When I write something that I think is both well-written and original, it is like telling secrets or revealing the answers to riddles. But the results then seem to me less interesting, like the punch line to a familiar joke; as if there is really no artfulness to the obvious. My tendency is then to resist writing down thoughts that come to mind in order to protect their pristine importance. The net result is an exercise in self-defeat; when I turn again to those undoubted gems of literary skill they are completely forgotten.

There is so far no way out of this predicament because if I write anything down the result is just ordinary at best—it remains great only if not written—and lost beyond recall. Of course it will also be forgotten by everyone else if written down, perhaps a sort of notoriety, but why share my lack-luster words with others?

The solution to the predicament is presented by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the elder, who recorded that he shared some lines of a humorous poem he had just written with his man-servant, who broke out in helpless laughter. “Ten days and nights with sleepless eye, I watched that wretched man. Since then I’ve never dared to write as funny as I can.” I will just not write as splendidly as I can—or as funny, for that matter.

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