Thursday, March 24

in the absence of answers

What a great day yesterday was.

Like I said yesterday, it was tear down day at the climbing gym, the day we closed early so as to strip every hold off of every wall so that the route setting geniuses can start putting up comp routes for the weekend. So we twisted bolts and climbed ladders and pealed tape from 8 to 10, 14 of us or so, in a hectic, frenetic, kinetic laugh-a-thon.

Before that, I got to do some #amrevising, working on a chapter that required more than just fixing little things, doing a line by line edit in order to take an emaciated framework and add some flesh to it. The more I revise, the more I understand how writers can have a problem letting go of a WIP, especially a first one: There’s so much learning, evolving, improving involved in the first time that, every time I come back to a chapter I haven’t touched for a month or two, I see entirely different ways to make it better.

At this rate, the manuscript will be finished never. That’s not a tenable position, so I’ve set April 21 as my mail-to-beta-readers day. I can get all picky again after that, but I have to actually set a shipping date, because the learning will never end.

 I also got to carry on my favorite ongoing internet conversation before the gym, and I got in a great (if short) session of climbing before the strip-fest began.

And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, I was provided the bonus of listening to a repeat of this morning's Q with Jion Ghomeshi on the drive home. The part I listened to was an interview with Canadian musical icon Bruce Cockburn. I’ve never actually been a huge fan, but have always respected him. His music has never moved me miles, but his activism and integrity have.

He was talking about his visit to Afghanistan in 2009. His brother is a Captain and physician in the Canadian Armed Forces (family dinners might be interesting), and he also played a concert for the Canadian troops there. He said that the people he talked to there, members of the medical mission, believed in their role but thought it would take 30 years for it too succeed; that a place like Afghanistan would need that much time just to birth and raise a generation that had a concept of what peace might look like.

They didn’t expect that the mission there would last that long.

I thought of Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Tea) and his effort to accomplish the same goal – a generation of Afghanis and Pakistanis that understand the concept of peace – through education. I had a hard time not contrasting the two approaches.

Cockburn talked about his other trips to war zones, both as an activist and performer. He said that he’s never gone to a war zone looking for material for his art. There are people, he said, that have a mandate to do so - journalists, writers, photographers, maybe poets – but that for him, doing so would have felt ‘inappropriate’.

But, he said, he always went with his eyes open. He went open to everything, but not looking for anything in specific. If material presented itself, he was prepared to accept it. And if it came, then it was his responsibility to apply all of his skill and craft to make the most of it.

I thought about the concept of manufactured versus organic, of counterfeit versus authentic. I thought it was a great way to view creativity – being open to the truth, and then applying every possibility of craft to take advantage of that truth. I thought about Elizabeth Taylor and how she might be as remembered for her activism (on behalf of HIV/AIDS going back way before it was fashionable) as she will be for the soap opera of her celebrity. I thought about which one I’d want to be remembered for.

It’s easy, I think, in our plastic world of intentional media confusion, our age of persuasion, to forget that people inhabit the caricatures we watch rise and fall on TV; that real people with sincere motives fight in wars that we detest. Lately, for me, it has seemed crucially important to remember how complicated everything is.

There were no conclusions to reach, none that did service to the issues. The perspective of complexity answers no questions at all, makes finite truths seem very far away, but while I sat here and nursed my sore wrists and stiff hands, the questions seemed more important than the answers anyway.