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Why we don’t do it.

Met my friend Jake at a coffee house this afternoon, and we found ourselves laughing at all the excuses we make for why we don’t do what we say we most want to do. In his case, paint. In my case, write. We need more uninterrupted time. We need to clean house first. We need a larger space. A smaller space. Unpaid bills worry us. Our kids need something from us. Want to write in the blog first. Our excuses are endless and hilarious, really. Driving home, I heard something on NPR that caught my interest, so I went to their website and ended up stumbling over a feature that includes a marvelous poem that says it brilliantly and made me laugh. Szymborska is talking about people who put off having a child. But it’s about putting off anything we think (or say) we want to do; running our “rackets” as the Forum people say.

A Tale Begun
by Wislawa Szymborska

The world is never ready
for the birth of a child.

Our ships are not yet back from Winnland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We’ve got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw’s center,
gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We’ve run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven’t got the trucks, we haven’t got the Minghs’ support.
This skinny horse won’t be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars’ captives.
We’ll need a warmer cave for winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don’t know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation let’s appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge
and say that we’ve got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let’s send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let’s untie the knots in the yurt’s leather straps.

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.
But not so far

that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,
0 heavenly powers.

Excerpt from View with a Grain of Sand, copyright © 1993 by Wislawa Szymborska, English translation by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh copyright © 1995 by Harcourt, Inc.

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One response to “Why we don’t do it.”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    .One of the reasons is that we’re not good enough to do it really well, but also good enough to know we can’t. No work of art is perfect and very few are even very satisfactory. The world is full of botched efforts and a good deal of rubbish, and that realization should be inhibition enough not to add to it, though for some reason it isn’t; I plead as guilty to the same lack of decent restraint as anyone. And then I think it has be asked, with reference to the next entry, whether you are you talking of good writing or of the moral qualities or otherwise of the writers? They don’t necessarily go together. Skillfully wordy expositions, the telling expression of individual dilemmas and political irritations, well-meaning criticisms of this that or the other, personal biographies and so on, are all very well and sometimes interesting, but in the greatest literature the writer stays as good as invisible. Art is a process of detached observation made possible by the extreme self-awareness of the artist and it takes such complete dedication and the sacrifice of the usual comforts of ordinary life that very few of us are able or willing to do so. Women are perhaps less inclined to make that sacrifice, or the inability to do so is foisted on them. To my mind, the failure of almost all modern writing and to put it as bluntly as possible is to fall into the natural temptation of decorating recounts of what are essentially personal grievances with pseudo-literary devices, with not quite enough attention to the work and just a little too much to egotistical gratification. Perhaps you’d better get onto Proust as quickly as possible Kendall, because he against all the rules achieves the near-miracle of a completely detached auto-biography; the secret may be that within there is not one word of complaint or outrage or preaching or the desire to change anything. Things are as they are, and to be seen with the greatest possible clarity as nothing other than that; that’s message enough. The rest can be left to journalists or to amiable conversations between friends. .

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