The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

07 January 2014

Of words, and Alf, and balls of yarn.

Any artist or craftsman can tell you how revealing it is at times to lay your work out for public consumption. I think any work of art or craftsmanship contains something of its creator. Perhaps the better the work, the more of the creator there is to be found.

I've experienced that as a writer. There have been pieces I've written that have me fairly squirming in discomfort to know that the words are out there for other eyes to see; that my construction of thoughts and sentences were then vulnerable to criticism, judgement, or even worse: disregard.

To my great surprise, I am now experiencing that vulnerability in reverse. I have been asked to proof a dissertation. Because the stakes are so high, and because I'm being paid which makes it a professional necessity, I am reading this document with more focused attention than I have with anything else in a long time. Not merely reading - it is scrupulous scrutiny.  It isn't my place to question the thesis, doubt the research, or judge the conclusion, but it is my job to ask every comma to justify itself, to test the construction of each sentence, to evaluate the structure of all quotations.

I read and reread every paragraph, and there are many of them. I have spent over 12 hours on this paper so far. That time and attention has lead me into the mind of its creator I now feel acquainted with the author on a level not achieved in all our personal dealings in real life, now stretching over several years. That intimacy is almost... too intimate.

There is a book I enjoy reading again and again, a trilogy actually, by Judith Tarr called The Hound and the Falcon. One of the characters, Alf, is able to see a person's mind. He sees them as tapestries or tangled skeins of yarn, or clear pathways.  I often wonder what Alf would think of my mind when I'm trying to untangle my thoughts.  A friend of mine, Father A, has a beautifully clear, organized and disciplined mind. Alf would delight in it.  I feel a little like Alf in this dissertation situation.  Not that I have any insight into the writer's being, but I feel I have been granted a glimpse of his mind, and that is something we usually guard from other people. I know I like to keep my tangled yarn to myself, which is why it is a disconcerting experience to share my 'true' writing (rather than the stuff that doesn't really mean anything.)

I don't know how to end this, or even why I'm sharing it.  I'm feeling somewhat abashed, or even a little embarrassed. Have you ever experienced something like this?


  1. Yes, I do understand. I offered to be a beta reader for Phil Hall's novel Minimal (just out), and I spent more effort on it than on my own work - you do feel responsible for the changes you suggest. And it does give you a glimpse into their mind. That can be intriguing or scary depending upon what you find there!

    As for your own writing, it takes time to feel comfortable with other people reading it. Take little steps if necessary, but keep moving forward!

  2. Yes. Writing has always been scary for me. And likely will always be.

  3. Intriguing or scary indeed!
    Thank you for the encouragement, KR. You are a good example to me of someone who is dedicated to writing while also holding down another job.

    Sarah, I think that scariness is a good thing, don't you? It must be a sign that you're writing something true and honest. I think you're doing marvelously well!