Jean Rhys once called writing a huge lake. “There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky,” she writes. “And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”
In response to Rhys, Madeleine L’Engle later wrote of her own art, “My trickle adds hardly a drop of water to the lake.”
In such company, it seems the height of arrogance to label even a few molecules with my own name, to call myself a “writer.” All I know is that I write: words and notes keep bursting out of me like uninvited teardrops. In these moments, who I am becomes secondary to the teardrops themselves, to the passions and ideas that they represent. As Rhys says, “I don’t matter. The lake matters.”
Much as I love Rhys’s image, one thing about it has always troubled me. Lakes are bodies of still water; yet for me, writing has always been an act of reaching out. When I think of writing, I imagine a river which plunges forward, constantly changing itself and its surroundings. Writing is brazen, risky, unpredictable.
Every writer, no matter how inconsequential, has the privilege of standing at the edge of this river; of emptying our cupped hands and eyedroppers and paper cups into the rushing torrent; of becoming living tributaries to the river.
Perhaps all I’ll ever be is a few unnoticed passions, a few convictions, a few teardrops lost in the river. In the end, it’s not about being noticed. It’s about saying something. It’s about feeding the river and leaving the world a little different than it was before.
© Greg Coles 2013