Something Loose Knit and Yet Not Slovenly . . .

Miscellaneous Musings on Wednesday


Reading diary excerpts again and stumbled across this from Miss Virginia Wolfe:

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy.” Diary of Virginia Wolfe

I don’t usually like to post long quotes, but this particular excerpt, in spite of its length, rather concisely conveys some of the best advice on writing I’ve found. It should be framed and hung on my wall somewhere I can spy it every day.


imageSpeaking of diaries, I can’t help but wonder if anyone reads them anymore, especially the famous ones, like that of Samuel Pepys. Ever heard of him? He started writing on 1 January 1660 and wrote daily for the next 3,468 days, missing only 11 days in the interim. He was, I think, anything but loose knit or slovenly; from all those pages one gets a pretty complete picture of the hedonistic, self-serving, vain, Mr. Pepys. For all his personal failings on display, and despite it’s antiquity, it’s still great reading to this day. In the process of all this work, done in addition to his work in the British Admiralty, he pretty much invented the diaristic art form. I wonder if he shouldn’t be considered the first distant ancestor of the blogging world of today? The patron saint of bloggers?  Then again, what does that say about bloggers.


I’m tempted at times to ask myself what is the greatest problem facing the Church today and I’m tempted to answer: the Church. It reminds me of the old Cold War joke about some old Communist, a delegate from the Soviet Union, came to visit the Vatican and boldly told one of the Cardinals that the Soviets intended to destroy the Church completely from the face of the earth. “Good luck,” the old Cardinal replied, “We’ve been trying to do it for 2,000 years.” I wonder if we’ll ever stop trying?


The clarinet lessons continue on. It was a terrible week for practice; seemed more like I was at war with the thing than playing it. There was a time or two I thought it would be best to take the thing back to the music store and start rubbing the cat’s ears instead. The question comes to mind, though, if that isn’t the kind of experience that leads to true improvement. I guess I’ll find out.


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