Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Language Imprisoned

If you want to write, if you have an idea, let it build up inside you. Put nothing on paper; let it sit and simmer and reshape itself a hundred times in your head. A vague, wispy notion will be only as thin as the paper that holds it, but an idea full-grown, ripe to overripe, will fall into words with a ruddy glow, bursting with restrained energy. When you are ready to explode with the force of the unfulfilled idea, when its rounded corpus is too heavy to remain in immaterial thought, let language come, black type on white, painting a newborn world that emerges fully-formed, oozing with life.

So a writer once told me.

There is no denying the wisdom of this concept. Yet time and again I find I cannot follow this advice. My ideas arrive so fleeting that I feel I must immediately grasp hold and pull down with all my might to keep them from drifting away. A diaphanous thought on paper exists, at least, but a weak thought conceived and never born miscarries, and is as if it never was. So I toil at endless shards, beginning after beginning, piece after piece, little completed, nothing robust.

‘How can it be so difficult?’ you ask. Don’t scribble furiously in the notebook, don’t open the blank document and let your fingers fly. Simply refrain.

But are words so easy to muzzle? The secret you had resolved to keep utterly private, the unkind thing you were determined never to say aloud—these things fly from our tongues like bats disturbed in caves. Keeping silent when you want to speak, not expressing the things you wish so much to share—it is a supremely grueling task. The suppression of language is no mean feat. It is not merely a choice to remain passive—it is an active decision, one that often requires superhuman strength. Words tumble about in your head, rearranging themselves endlessly, beating against the sides of their cage, begging, crying to be freed. Only with intensity of purpose, with undiluted focus, can the words be kept inside.

Words of every medium yearn to be liberated, to live unfettered and dance in the space they exist to fill. But sometimes they must be quashed. It is a task often performed with a tear—but always with a greater goal in mind.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On Disappointment and Destiny

This shabbos, I was looking forward to going somewhere, but had to cancel my plans Friday morning due to inclement weather.

A friend who was supposed to join me this weekend said to me, “I'm not sure if it’s right for me to be upset, since there is nothing else that I could have done, and apparently I wasn’t meant to go—but I was really looking forward to going.”

This comment made me think. My disappointment was unmitigated by such sensibilities. It never occurred to me that I oughtn’t feel upset about the necessitated cancellation because I clearly “wasn’t meant to go.” Of course, I quickly acclimated myself to the adjustment, and did not manifest my disappointment in outward action, but internally I felt justified in a certain sense of loss (not in any significant way, mind you, but in a perfectly normal, proportional sense). It wouldn’t cross my mind to say, “Clearly, God did not will me to be there this shabbos, so I should feel just as satisfied with the change of plans as I felt beforehand.” My friend, however, apparently believed that in some way feeling upset was not right, because this turn of events was Divinely ordained.

What do our respective reactions say about the way that we view God’s hand in our lives? The person who responds with, “Clearly, this is God’s plan,” assumes a certain amount of hashgacha over every event in our lives. My reaction of, “Aw, shucks. Bad weather is so annoying,” removes God’s specific intentions from the equation and blames teva (natural law).

Obviously, within Jewish sources there are differing views on hashgacha, and each reaction reflects a legitimate position. Mine would reflect a more rationalistic, Maimonidean approach—which makes sense, considering that my high school heavily pushed Rambam’s approach to most everything. However, I do have difficulty with a wholly Maimonidean position (to sum up inadequately: God does not intervene on behalf of individuals unless they are tzadikim). I have many issues with this view, but they are outside the scope of this post.

If I had to express my own opinion, I would say that I believe that Hashem does have hashgacha over certain aspects of our lives, but not others. I cannot determine where I draw the line—in fact, my whole perspective is extremely muddled—but I suppose it’s fair to assume that I blame ice storms on teva rather than Divine intervention. Yet I can’t help but hope that Hashem has some sort of ultimate plan in mind for me, as I struggle over grad schools and career plans and my uncertain future.

Who knows? Perhaps staying in school this shabbos will somehow shape my destiny. I’ll keep you posted.