The news from Trout Brook is good: the rhubarb is leafing out, the radish tops have broken the surface of the dirt, the lilacs and forsythia are budding. I noticed on my walk through Jordan’s Farm the other morning that walking geese don’t honk, but make a noise in their throats that sounds like old men farting. More on that later. The world is liminal at this moment in the year—it was sixty degrees yesterday and thirty-one this morning—but the balance is starting to tip toward spring and warmth and growth. We welcome it.
In the pandemic times, when I’ve been cautious about spending much time in the gym, wheezing and coughing with the other (mostly unmasked) types. I’ve done much more working out at home. One of the great benefits of this has been introducing myself to the podcast world and listening to various intelligent and entertaining voices.
I know Terry Gross, of course—it’s just that I don’t listen to the radio as much, since I don’t have the hour-long drives that characterized my commuting life. Fresh Air is available as a podcast and I’ve started tuning it in while I’m fake-skiing on my Concept II.
Most recently, listening to Delia Ephron talk about her new book Left on Tenth, I heard her toss off a sentence that stopped me in my tracks—literally. “Writing is your fingerprint.”
Fingerprints are unique. No one else in the world has the same set of ridges and whorls, not even a twin, if you have one. Ephron’s pronouncement struck me as an almost perfect metaphor for what a writer does, especially a writer following his or her nose and not trying to write to a market or a trend.
Writing will not let you disguise who you are. (We’re not talking about your penmanship here.) The words and phrases you habitually use, your tone of voice, how you describe people and objects, all identify you. They are unique to your perspective on the world. The rhythm of your writing is a history of where you’ve been, a guess at where you are, a hint at where you want to be.
Many of us start out writing in a style that imitates another writer, usually someone whose prose or poetry we admire. But if you stick with the discipline long enough, you learn that you are trying to speak your own stories, not theirs, and the styles you’ve tried to imitate become subsumed in your own style, unique as, well, a fingerprint.
Which for no rational reason reminded me of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, which seems apposite in these parlous times: “We are put on earth to fart around, don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
If spring (and eventually, summer) is not a time for farting around, I don’t know what is. But we keep working, don’t we, and we often don’t do enough farting around while working, by which I mean loosening the brain-reins, letting the story flow from where you dream, riding the wave rather than trying to control it.
Robert Frost’s Two Tramps in Mud Time says it clearly (and yes, folks, it is still mud time, even if your roads are paved):
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
We may be playing for mortal stakes, but for the best writing we do, the work becomes play, becomes farting around in the best possible sense of the word. So forgive me my crudities, my friends, but fart on. Fart on.