I don’t use the highlight feature on my Kindle very often, and when I do it’s usually for something funny or interesting I want to remember. Sometimes, it’s for a sentence or paragraph I find particularly literary and beautiful and poetic, though that is rare when reading contemporary works. Last night, after a shitty day to end all shitty days, I opened my Kindle to continue reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and stumbled upon the most arrestingly beautiful line I think I’ve ever read.
And here it is:
I wonder, as I look up at this softly enameled sky, so faintly tinted, which does not bulge today with heavy rain clouds but smiles like a piece of old china,
I don’t know if appreciation of language is affected by mood and temperament, but somehow this line was more alive than the others around it. I think it’s the word enameled that does it. It immediately evoked an image in my mind that I could not only see clearly, but that I could also taste.
No, I wasn’t drinking. I just have no other way to describe it.
And then to follow it up with so faintly tinted… I don’t know. It stopped me dead and made me incredibly sad. To understand that sadness requires a confession.
My most recent books, including the one I’m currently working on, are written in a style I can only describe as manufactured. The style comes partly from repetition of learned habits gleaned from books like On Writing and How Not To Write a Novel. As I write Science Fiction, I tend to read a lot of Science Fiction, which while awesome and exciting, teaches a style that is more action-based, more bombastic than what I would call literary fiction. (God only knows if I’m using that term correctly.)
Reader feedback also dictates changes to my style. They don’t like it wordy. They don’t like my awkward sex scenes. They don’t like all the “relationship shit.”
What this produces is a style that is manufactured to be the most appealing to the widest audience. And why wouldn’t you want to do that? More readers means more money and more money means more Whataburger.
But, as I suspect is the case with a lot of writers, I also have a style that I only use in private, on rare days when I’m not working on the book, when I’m writing just for myself. Those days, the language stretches like dissipating contrails “in an enameled sky,” and the words flow in a way that would make most readers reach for something easier to understand, perhaps Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Seriously, have you tried to read that?)
And I tell you what: I miss writing like that. I miss verbosity and poetry and stringing together metaphors and similes in an ever-increasingly clever sequence that ends with a halting breath and shaky hands.
Even with a manufactured style, I still try to focus on the communication of emotion, which I’ve always felt is the most important aspect of writing (and art in general). But perhaps I’m too focused on it… at the expense of a secondary notion that the writing itself can be beautiful, that prose can be poetry. You don’t have to choose one or the other.
So yes, the line made me sad. And it’s the sadness of lost opportunities to write honestly. When you’re done with your marketing and your social media and your brand awareness, all you’ve really got is an arrangement of words on a page.
Sometimes, in our quest to realize our dreams of grandeur, we forget we’re supposed to be producing art. And we forget to question whether that art is honest. Whether we’re proud of it.
I know… that sounds haughty as hell. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak for other writers.
I, Daniel Verastiqui, forget to question.