On Writing

When I write, and I mean something like an essay where ideas and arguments are herded, corralled, branded, ideally to return, more or less quickly, out from the paddock, ideas arrive. They are unheralded, unexpected, and sometimes unwelcome. They demand attention, calling out to me, to the writing, to its ideas and arguments. They demand this, of the practice, the essay and of me. I do not know where they come from. I do not seek them, yet they arrive, always.

Many years ago I spent a week camping in the Mount Kosciuszko national park. A girlfriend was participating in an ecology conference way up the road at Charlotte’s Pass, and each day I would drive up, park in a car park and go for a walk. The road wound its way up a ridge, over the plateau, with the car park at the top. For the first two or three days the car park and valley beyond was always swathed in cloud and fog or fog and cloud. I became accustomed to this as its view.

The day I parked under clear blue skies I was unprepared, unaware, of what it would present of itself. This is the only area on mainland Australia where you can see the effects of glaciation. Before me was an enormous landscape of peaks and scraped gouged bowled valleys. Permanent snow filigreed across the lips of ridges. Scale. To see marked across these mountains the softness of rock marked by the literal inscription of an inhuman weight, force and duration of ice. Affect ripped as rush between from and against my body’s habituation to the nonview of fog and cloud and this unrealised splendour. I was staggered, thrilled, shocked.

This was my view but it is not my view. The valleys and peaks were there the day before amongst the fog and cloud and they’re still there now, and they were there 5,000 years ago. It affected me. I did not affect it. This view does not exist for, or because of me, and it seems the most anthropomorphic of conceits to think that it now matters because it needed me (or anyone else) to notice it. The view doesn’t exceed me (that retains me as its measure) and is indifferent, different, and outside of me. Yet it can call to me in the vibrancy of the this that of our entanglement. Trigger this thrill of chemicals and contractions and hormones and ideas coursing through. I did not cause the view or make it arrive for me.

This is how I experience and understand those ideas that force their attention upon me when I write. They are as unbidden and outside of me as this view.