To Willing Conflators Of Tillie Olsen, Franz Kafka And Jeremy Todd (first letter)

Dear Friends,
I’ve found that subterranean forces can make you wait, and that they’re very finicky about the kind of waiting it has to be.  Before they feed the creator back, they must be fed, passionately fed, what needs to be worked on.  “We hold up our desire as one places a magnet over a composite dust from which the particle of iron will suddenly jump up,” says Paul Valéry.  A receptive waiting, that means, not demands which prevent “an undistracted center of being.”  And when the response comes, availability to work must be immediate.  If not used at once, all may vanish as a dream; worse, future creation be endangered – for only the removal and development of the material frees the forces for further work.
There is a life in which all of this is documented.  For every one entry of my diaries here, there are fifty others that testify as unbearably to the driven stratagems for time, the work lost (to anyone), the damage to the creative powers of having to deny, interrupt, postpone, put aside, let work die.
“I cannot devote myself completely to my work,” I wrote in 2005.  “I could not live by my Not Sent Letters Project alone, if only, to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character.”  So I paid my way as a waiter, in construction (framing mostly), non-profit artist-run centres, galleries, as a sessional instructor in university undergraduate studio art programmes – and I worked on my art project when I could.

These two can never be reconciled.  If I have created something one evening, I am afire the next day while at my job and can bring nothing to completion.  Outwardly I fulfill my duties satisfactorily, not my inner duties however, and every unfulfilled inner duty becomes a misfortune that never leaves.  What strength it will necessarily drain me of.


No matter how little the time or how badly I make out, I feel approaching the imminent possibility of great moments which could make me capable of anything.  But my being does not have sufficient strength to the next chance I get to work on my project.  During the day the visible world helps me;  during the night it cuts me to pieces unhindered…


I finish nothing because I have no time, and it presses so within me.


When I begin to work again on my project after such a long interval, I pluck an idea as if out of the empty air.  If I do get a hold of one, well, then I just have that one alone, and all the toil must begin anew. 


Yesterday for the first time in months, I possess an indisputable ability to do good work.  And yet only a fragment  gets finished.  Again I realize that everything I do bit by bit, rather than all at once in the course of a larger whole, is inferior, and the circumstances of my life condemn me to this inferiority.


My constant attempt to sleep before dinner, in order to work on my project late into the night, is senseless.  By one o’clock I can no longer fall asleep at all.  The next  day at my job becomes insupportable, and so I destroy myself.


Distractedness, weak memory, stupidity.  Days passed in futility, powers wasted away in waiting – always this one principal anguish…

I suppose I’m trying to confess something to you.  I have periodic moments in relation to this anguish, these conditions in which claims of creation cannot be primary, when results atrophy, work remains unfinished, accomplishments are minor, when there is silence.  Yes – and sometimes I break down.  Breakdown (not genuine madness).  Extremity.  When overborne, overworn — for a period – I break down, give up, go under, cannot go on.  Reality depression.  Nullity.  Survival withdrawal.  Ragings.  Not neuroses or symptoms of neuroses as commonly (mis)apprehended, (mis)treated.  Natural.  Extremity.  Sanity.  It would be unreal (insane) not to (re)act so.