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Duende43: Dig a grave

Duende43: Dig a grave

One of my foremost memories is of my pet budgie "Cecil". He was a slender green and yellow bird. He was less pet and more ornament. He lived in a cage in the corner of the kitchen, so the interacting with him was limited. Adding feed, changing the water and cleaning the bottom of the cage was all I was allowed in terms of playing with him.

My mother was afraid Cecil would bite me.

I once let him out for the simple reason that I wanted to play with him. I had closed all the doors and I watched him fly.

He was flying away from me. When he could, he'd fly into the window. I realised that his entire life had been spent watching that window, the portal to a better life. And I was his captor.

My mother came in, and chaos ensued as we tried to catch poor traumatised Cecil.

Not long after, Cecil died. I insisted we bury him in the backyard, close to the window. I dug a hole, not a very deep hole, and placed him in his shallow grave.

You'll recall in Duende42, we talked about Chekov's notion of posing the right question. He confidently stated this was "essential" for the writer.

I think it should be obvious that posing questions doesn't, and can't, operate within a vacuum. The writer must read widely so as to know where past thinkers have posed questions. If the writer can find like-minded thinkers who have thought about the same sort of problems, then the writing/thinking is not a lonely endeavour.

In fact, finding someone who thinks like you can be very liberating. And inspiring. And the miracle of writing means my new bestie might be centuries dead. Or living an existence on the other side of the planet.

Richard Elmore, who was the Gregory R. Anrig Research Professor of Educational Leadership in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discussed this idea of "capacity". It is the "fund of skill and knowledge" a person can bring to responding to the outside world.

A writer must expand their capacity by articulating the world they see. Journalling is an excellent form for writing your way into thinking, a place (and time) to pose those Chekovian questions.

Margaret Atwood, acclaimed Booker prize-winning author, wrote about the role of the writer in Negotiating with the Dead. Everyone can write, even the illiterate can scrawl a mark with the understanding they are 'writing' in the simplest form.

But not everyone can Write.

She likens Writing (with a capital W) to digging a grave. Anyone can dig a hole. But not all holes can become graves.

As a grave-digger, you ... carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people's projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions... you represent mortality.

There is a nexus between simply posing Chekovian questions and understanding the weight of writing about such questions. It is a hard struggle to attempt to strip away cliched notions and find the essence. It requires constant expansion of one's capacity.

I have only ever dug the one grave, but I have shovelled dirt onto quite a few coffins. There is a responsibility felt when hearing the dirt hit the wood. An acceptance that death is part of life and that one day I will be the one in the coffin and the sound of dirt landing above me will be the last I get to be part of this world.