I just finished a very short and contemplative memoir, Ongoingness: The End of Diary by Sarah Manguso. Easily read in one sitting, it is about the author contemplating 25 years of her diaries/ journals. For Manguso, when she holds the mirror up to her writing, she feels a need to record as a hedge against forgetting. There is a subtle and shifting line between the diary as a sketch vs. the diary as a neurotic attempt to “hold on” to moments. It reminds me a bit of Yoko Ono’s book of poems/ art, Grapefruit (196os) which contains her conceptual/ Fluxus thought pieces- whether she is writing about the wind, water, walking in someone’s footsteps – Ono seeks to create moments and not hold on to them. The only grasping I perceive is the typed instructions themselves.
Why not write small and deceptively simple? In a world where we are constantly tossed through time (flying in a plane, watching old war footage, hearing the echoes of previous Presidents in a political address) we can use writing to define the current now, and not belaboring it, as a gentle way of living in the moment. There is also the Chinese/Japanese concept of zuihitsu, “a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings. The name is derived from two Kanji meaning “to follow” and “brush.” Thus works of the genre should be considered not as traditionally planned literary pieces but rather as casual or randomly recorded thoughts by the authors.” (Via Wikipedia)
An example of Manguso, from her book, “Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws … I wanted to know how to inhabit time in a way that wasn’t a character flaw.”
Your writing mission, if you choose to accept it– an exercise in less is more. Write either one paragraph that is about your writing a la Manguso, (I hold a mirror up to my writing….) or write a conceptual piece with instructions like Ono. Think of your words as sparse but heavy, powerful, intense, focused, sharp and piercing. Words are precise and precious, so use them wisely.