Friday, March 4, 2011

Night driving

I came across this quote by E.L. Doctorow in a book on writing by Anne Lamott and it struck me as so profound: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Anne added after the quote, "You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you."

It's comforting to think of writing in this way. I'm not working on a novel, at least to my knowledge, but I'm working on a project of sorts and it feels very much like Doctorow and Anne described. I can't see my destination; I can see just as far as my headlights.

More than describing the process of writing, though, I find comfort in this analogy as describing the process of living. It is basically the stuff of faith, though that may not have been on the authors' minds when they wrote these words.

How often I have asked to drive in the daylight. I prefer it. I'm more alert, awake, aware of my surroundings. How often I have searched for headlights with a stronger beam, or requested a superhuman gift of night vision. This drive would be so much easier if only I could see beyond these few feet, if only I could plan for the places I will pass along the way, if only I could see clearly if the route I'm taking will be the best one for the journey.

But I suppose it makes for a fresher, in-the-moment experience to write this way, to live this way. We can have outlines, but we can't pre-write our scripts. It has to be bit by bit, mile marker by mile marker. We might have less flaws in our scripts if we could see so far, but they'd be stale. We might make less mistakes in life, but we'd be less interesting people. For these words not only deal with writing and life, but also with grieving and healing, loving and relating with others, and those processes are far from calculated and precise. They're messy. They're risky. They offer no guarantees. So instead of freaking out about the length and depth of my headlights, I'd better just accept it and keep driving. Heck, why not just relax and enjoy the drive? I'll get there when I get there.

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