Currents Of The River

I’m really at a loss about what to write this week.

So as not to stress myself too greatly, I try to post once a week, like the columns I used to write for a small town newspaper.  And most of the time, this works well.  But I’m struggling today.

I have ideas about subject matter, and they could well be interesting.  I know they are of interest to me.  But… part of my desuetude right now though comes from being tired of too much earnest seriousness while at the same time not feeling particularly jolly.

There are a lot of currents in the river of my life.  For instance, I’m a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing, or at least certain aspects.  I keep thinking about him and what I admire about his character and approach to writing, or at least the little I know.  I certainly haven’t read everything he wrote.   I do ignore all the macho posturing and his later pain and confusion.

His writing, though, at its best, is just so… laden with reverberations, with meaning.  For instance, this sentence speaks to me deeply:

Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.

I keep thinking of his ‘one true sentence.’  It’s become a zen koan to me, repeated over and over again, an enigma the conscious mind grapples with and fails to comprehend.  Yet it remains and I struggle to approach its meaning.  One true sentence.

Hemingway relates this in A Moveable Feast:  He might start a new story and not be able to get it going.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Some critics complain that Hemingway “sentimentalized” his writing process, and of course his style has been parodied and ridiculed almost as much as it has been emulated.  And I could start writing the stripped-down declarative sentences in imitation.  But I think this is much deeper than a stylistic approach.  This is about essentials, and mine are different than his, and yours.

Of course wordy, adjective laden sentences and latin polysyllabics are to be eschewed.  Write like a real man, or a woman, instead.

This is about getting to the nub of your own capacity for expression, of our language’s capacity for expression.  It’s Bob Dylan’s And every one of them words rang true  And glowed like burnin’ coal (from Tangled Up in Blue).

It almost has to be found in the body, the energy combining from a clear heart and mind and emerging from the fingertips onto the page.  Or sputtering forth on a desultory day.  One true sentence.  My mantra.

That’s one current.  Another is the recent visit to my home landscape  in north central British Columbia, where I grew up, while working with municipalities on flood preparations.  There’s deep snow in the mountains this year, and the rivers will be full this spring.

I realized while travelling with my colleague in a rental vehicle west from Prince George what a large impact those formative years of youth are.  They were only a few really, just 10 years or so from boyhood to young adulthood.  But in those years, when time ran slow and deep, the stories of the landscape and of the people we knew formed and embedded themselves in us.   Upon return each story begins to reassert itself, that curve of highway, that person’s house, that family that came to our aid when we needed them.

What my companion sees as a blank slate, an anonymous stretch of road, a plain wooded hillside, to me echoes with each discrete happening that I recall.  I don’t know why this should be so revelatory, since it is obvious, but it is.  We turn around the bend and I am home again.


Explore posts in the same categories: Heroes, Remembering, Writing

4 Comments on “Currents Of The River”

  1. Diana Says:

    This is my favorite kind of blog entry, a meandering musing while we get to sit back and see where your mind is going. Wonderful. :)

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Diana,

    Hey thanks! I really didn’t know where I was going when I wrote the first sentence. I usually have it better planned than that…


  3. qazse Says:

    “one true sentence” as a starting point…thank you for introducing me to that notion and showing me a skillful and creative application of same.

    your job sounds interesting.


  4. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Yes, the notion is one I like to contemplate. On the rare occasions when the words do come together for me and carry a feeling or something extra, they are not different than this phrase of Hemingway’s. So I repeat the mantra blindly in the hopes another stray bolt will fling itself out of me…

    My job can be interesting, just too fraught with underhanded politicians and bizarre bureaucracy sometimes (I work in flood hazard management).


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