Monday, September 08, 2008

The Game of Writing - Literary/Mystical Puzzles for Writers

Jill Dearman
Letter Meditation #3: Gimmel, The Long Run
The third letter of the Hebrew Alphebet, Gimmel, is often discussed by Talmudic rabbis, as a symbol of the rich man running after the poor man to give him charity. Gimmel shares the same Hebrew root as the word "Gamel", meaning camel. That image makes us think about the ability to walk through the desert for long stretches, without water, without sustenance.

The camel image takes me back to the first time I read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (film adaption by Bertolucci was weaker than it should've been, and yet memorable in its own way). I was returning home from a trip to Africa, where I had gone to visit my friend Suz in the Peace Corps. Laidover in Paris, I laid on the floor at Charles DeGaulle, on a makeshift bed made out of my duffel bag, and picked up where I'd left off in The Sheltering Sky. Without spoiling the plot, suffice to say, one of the Americans becomes ill during his travels and things take a very bad turn.

I too had a bad turn during my journey, though everything else about it was wonderful. While biking in the hot sun, to help my friend help the African mothers she was working for as a health care practitioner, I found myself dehydrated, sick, scared. An African woman, a friend of my friend's helped me by giving me water and a place to rest. For a dumb, young American in her early 20s this experience was poignant, humbling, meaningful.

As the summer, season of travel, fades into fall, I am left to think about journeys, short and long. Writing projects, short and long. I am curious as to what it takes, for each different artist, to find his or her Gimmel / or Camel like energy to see a project through from beginning to end. It's not easy.
Some scholars describe the image of the letter Gimmel as being similar to a three-legged stool and suggested that we take that image as an inspiration to find balance. Balance between what is the question?

I have seen, in myself, my writing clients, my writer friends … the intensity to get the words down on paper, to finish something "before we die." Then, as time passes, we see that more time is necessary to go on with a project. To go through another draft, another revision, another way of imagining it.

There is something to be learned from a Gimmel-esque camel. Can we see our way through the desert, and go for many miles in difficult weather without outer sustenance? How?
Clues, perhaps, can be found in the previous two letters. The first letter, Aleph, shows us that we are at one with the universe. We can internalize the power of that universe and then when it is time, externalize it, by producing our work, our one individual piece of the universe. Beit, the second letter, shows us that we must find a home for our work –– first in ourselves and then in the world. Can we find, through the strength of those first two letters, more strength to keep going -- through the wind and the dark?

Don't forget to hydrate … and to rest!

Letter Exercise: Use the image of a camel, or another animal of your choice as a jumping off point to tell a story, fiction or nonfiction. In prose, poetry or play form.

Puzzle of the Moment: When you do your writing at a slow, camel like pace, what is the experience like, and the results? Try "slow writing" for ten minutes, thinking about each word.

Please comment with your thoughts!

Additional reading:
The Sheltering Sky (novel) by Paul Bowles

Jill Dearman is the author of the forthcoming book for writers, BANG THE KEYS. Her prose has been published in numerous literary magazines including Lilith, New York Stories, The Portland Review and North Atlantic Review. She is a part-time Professor of Journalism at New York University, and a writing coach with a large private clientele. For more:


Baboon Lady said...

Your wandering in the desert analogy makes me think of Moses. Reminding his followers that with faith and dedication they would reach the promised land...Moses was the Jill Dearman of the day.

When dealing with rejection, the animal image I find reassuring is that of the fabled phoenix, rising from the ashes.

Like Kipling's Elephant Child, all writers should suffer from insatiable curiosity. Like the elephant, who stuck his then too-short nose into new waters, a writer must be willing to brave the unknown. Stretching in a new direction may at first be painful, but can lead to hard-earned growth.

Of course, I can't ignore baboons, my favorite mischief makers of the primate world. Letting my imagination run wild at times is a necessity as well.

As for our friend the camel, your column reminds me that when my well of creativity seems to have run dry, I only need to draw on hidden reserves for the journey ahead.

Jill Dearman said...

Thank you for reminding us of Kipling's Elephant's Child, lady!

Anonymous said...

I love your story. It's so easy, in the crazy, busy city and our 21st-century lives, to forget the simple necessities. Water and a place to rest. Charity. And what a luxury it is to worry about the things we worry about. Thank you for reminding me. I go back to work with a calmer head and clearer vision.

Jill Dearman said...

let calmness, clarity and camels be the code words of the week!