Creativity Series: David Jacobsen “Every Damned Tangle and Knot”

The Bereshit Bara Creativity Series asks 13 Creatives to wrestle with how they make the first move, write the first word, fling the first brush stroke, peel back the first layer of clay? What inspires them, what moves them, what drives them? I’d also like to hear from YOU. Send me your thoughts or a link to your post wrestling with these questions at rossgale4@gmail.com.

If you comment on today’s post you will be entered into a drawing to win David’s book Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time FatherhoodI’ll announce the winner over the weekend.

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A friend sits at Starbucks and scripts his novel across the lines of a notebook. Another, before she finds her stories, spreads wet pulp across a screened frame to make paper from scratch. I open my laptop at night and key green letters across the black sky.

Writing has always unfolded this way. Each story starts with a single word. Perhaps it is not the best word, or the only word, but it is the right word because it begins the story.

A second word follows, then a seventh and a seven thousandth. No matter the number, no matter the speed, the writer moves step by step. The first word is the first step, and the rest is finding a way into the forest in order to find a way out.

Words begin our stories, so words are gifts. We don’t worship words, but neither do we use them like matchsticks. We don’t fuck with them. We don’t tuck them in and turn on the television.

No. We dig words up. We brush dirt from their chips and cracks with precise flicks of wrist. We guess at their luster and polish until they shine. We set words on the sill and give them water, watch them turn hour after hour toward the sun.

Then there comes a time we smash a bottle of champagne on the bow of our words and push them into the channels of time. Good luck, we say. Godspeed. And we watch out words steam into the distance.

Yet flowers die and ships run aground. Hikers lose their way. A story sinks in an ocean of zeros and ones, unread by anyone but the writer. Sometimes the forest seems forever.

Perhaps that is why we long for words which last. I wonder if this is the secret of our hunting, of our groping along the walls of journals and notebooks for a light switch: that we’ll live as long as our words do—which is world without end—because both we and our words will be gathered into a greater story.

I’ve heard them whisper back, my words. Now you see a poor reflection, but one day we’ll be waiting, and you’ll see face to face. I don’t always believe them, but if these words are right, then one day I will discover in the pages of that greater story the denouement of every damned tangle and knot that has ever compelled me to put pen to paper.

To start a story, to pray for an end, I move my fingers in the shape of a single word.


David Jacobsen lives in central Oregon with his wife and two sons. He holds a BA in English from Westmont College, an MCS in theology from Regent College, and an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is a writer, editor, agent, and the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood (Zondervan 2007). David can be reached at jacobsenwriting@gmail.com.

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22 thoughts on “Creativity Series: David Jacobsen “Every Damned Tangle and Knot”

  1. I trained as both a linguist and an anthropologist, so I love words, their power to frame, contain, inspire, reinvent. I love this quote from one of the granddaddies of linguistic anthropology, Edward Sapir: ‘Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generations.’

  2. Loved this.
    “Perhaps that is why we long for words which last. I wonder if this is the secret of our hunting, of our groping along the walls of journals and notebooks for a light switch: that we’ll live as long as our words do—which is world without end—because both we and our words will be gathered into a greater story”

    Beautiful prose, beautiful poetry.

  3. Good luck, we say. And Godspeed. (that rhythm sounds very like Dillard to me) Definitely the hardest part. I’m terrible at it. Thank you for sharing! (we have a copy of your wonderful book so you can award to another commenter :-))

    • Thanks for stopping by, Shannon. And thanks even more for comparing my rhythm to Dillard. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Or perhaps I should say: that makes me feel all warm. And fuzzy.

  4. Great post. I love how you say that even if your first word isn’t your best word, it is still the right word because it starts the story. To me, that is profound because so often we give up stories midway through. To finish a story is a minor miracle, and we probably do owe more to that first word than we realize.

    • Good thoughts. We should probably buy that first word a drink and give it a day off—as you say, many of us never finish the story, and if we do, we have the first word to thank.

  5. “No. We dig words up. We brush dirt from their chips and cracks with precise flicks of wrist. We guess at their luster and polish until they shine. We set words on the sill and give them water, watch them turn hour after hour toward the sun.”
    It’s very interesting to consider how writing is like gardening or building mosaics (my two other artistic outlets). I often wish they would grow on their own, but no, I open the document and there they are, just as I left them.

    • Well, for me the pretty little phrase “give them water” means a lot of hard and repetitive jobs, like rewriting, editing, waiting, reading aloud, etc.—basically what is needed for the story’s potential to actually grow. A useful essay could probably be written comparing what a plant needs (nutrients, light, water) to various parts of the writing process.

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