Heart to Heart

Clarissa takes one of Richard’s hands in hers. She is surprised, even now, at how frail it is—how palpably it resembles a bundle of twigs.
He says, “Here we are. Don’t you think?”
“Pardon me?”
“We’re middle-aged and we’re young lovers standing beside a pond. We’re everything, all at once. Isn’t it remarkable?”
“I don’t have any regrets, really, except that one. I wanted to write about you, about us, really. Do you know what I mean? I wanted to write about everything, the life we’re having and the lives we might have had. I wanted to write about all the ways we might die.” The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Someone once said a writer needs to write like a cow needs to give milk. The act of putting words on the page, of composing—just that action—brings the writer the same satisfaction an old milk cow gets when her full udder is emptied. I believe this is a true comparison. There is an ache in the need to write, a yearning to—by some combination of insight and capacity and skill—distill into sentences life’s wonder, its vastness, its past and present and future.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve taken into my own heart the aching heart of every writer whose work I’ve tried to comprehend. Perhaps this is the tribal ritual of writers, past and present, our version of pulling a brave warrior’s heart from his chest and eating it. We feast on the fierce originality of those whose tracks—ink on paper—we follow, and thereby we become fierce and original, too.


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