History teaches that man's arrogance, outrage and hubris matter little in the end. What
counts is humor about frailty, purpose, love, and offense. Outrage is a bad way of
thinking if not us, who?
The outrage a writer's language comes from in times of conflict is a maneuvering for
position, a grip. Writers don't amount to much and the ones who are read know it. They
are pleased to have written, or as poet Henry Sloss has said, to be impressed by their own
work. What a writer puts forth, when it finds a bemused reader, aware of his deformities
and devotions, unbound by fears, can cause insight that is sneaky. Insight is overrated,
and the writers who understand this evade the usual census.
No one knows why we went to war with Iraq, and that's as it should be. We could have
stayed home, put our bellicose fund into roads and bridges, health and education, but no
idea is immune to its disappearance, witness the Maya or the Dada. Those urging health
care and a keen education so our kids can compete with cultures like Japan's, where
children go all year to class and present, to our pedagogues, a truly disquieting onus, these
advocates, like writers generally, are boring and matter only in the sense that they are
assured. Presented with turmoil, with conflict, our response as writers is to dig for love,
which we secretly feel we don't deserve.
Pick the person to admire, to sit with on a day when the sun is thin and there's still some
wind from the north, and you must, if you have any color in you at all, any perception of
things, of how things really are, choose the operative, the fellow cunning with subterfuge,
the one calling it in, the op, Hammett's, Greene's, Le Carre's, even Fowles', disguised
pretty well and untwisting things nicely. The op's the one. Listen to the op and live. He's
as sure and writerly as it gets, and most important, he works in the cool margins of others'
outrage, secure in his competence, his need to be not cynical just adroit.
Outrage seems to me a kind of violence we do to ourselves, to skin our conscience to the
march, get into the oppressor's face, let him know--make ourselves know--we enjoy the
friction of parallel universe hegemony, putting the artist's cry to the infantry's.
Birds have been dropping twigs and grass on my boat. I work inside, in these wild
freshening days of spring, getting the waterpump to work, vacuuming up winter's grit,
sorting clothes, inside the frames and planks of the old hull, feeling the teak on my feet,
the cool choppy air blowing through the hatch and out the doors, over the river, through
the moored yachts and down the bay, to the ocean.
Here, I don't need to know what to do about anything. Knowing there is nothing that can
be done fits a tenderness to conflict that floats me off, in the river's mottled planes of
silvers and blues, in bliss.