Thursday, January 21, 2016

365 True Things: 298/Contradiction

I have many interests, and quite a few abilities and talents as well. However, I wonder whether my many interests translate to spreading myself too thin, to not really being very good at anything. Jack of all trades, master of none.

I was musing the other day while journaling about whether I "should" write essays as opposed to short (or long) fiction or poetry (which I "dabble" in), because I know what I'm doing when I write an essay. I'm competent in that form.

But then I turned right around and said, no! I want to play! Fiction and poetry are perfect, precisely because I don't know what I'm doing! I should have fun! And not just with writing, but with making things generally—artist books and photographs; with drawing, gardening, and cooking. I want to experiment! (Okay, maybe not cooking.) Competence is overrated! (Yeah, definitely not cooking.)

No, no, I told my inner child: competence is not overrated. However, it isn't all there is, either; you are right about that. Play is very important. And indeed, you (I) could be better at it, for sure.

Not Carmel: but wow, the artistry!
Plus, it illustrates my plight . . .
(Many years ago when my English friend Christine was visiting, we went to see the Carmel Beach Great Sandcastle Competition, and after viewing the hugely creative works and learning about the earnest bribing-of-the-judges and seeing all the energy that went into something that, the next day, would get kicked over and forgotten, she commented, "You Americans certainly do take having fun seriously.")

So, in the midst of wondering about that—cultivate seriousness or simply fool around—I realized that my problem wasn't competence or lack thereof so much as not wanting to think of myself as a contradiction.

And yet: contradiction is (I believe) the very fuel of creativity and exploration. If everything made sense, if everything had an answer, well—we'd be set, right? But it doesn't, and so . . . we question, we try to find a balance between the unknown and the known, we search for our center, which may lie between two (or more) opposites.
“In art, and maybe just in general, the idea is to be able to be really comfortable with contradictory ideas. In other words, wisdom might be, seem to be, two contradictory ideas both expressed at their highest level and just let to sit in the same cage sort of, vibrating. So, I think as a writer, I'm really never sure of what I really believe.”
― George Saunders

“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don't want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don't want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.”
― Jeanette Winterson

“When I start a new seminar I tell my students that I will undoubtedly contradict myself, and that I will mean both things. But an acceptance of contradiction is no excuse for fuzzy thinking. We do have to use our minds as far as they will take us, yet acknowledge that they cannot take us all the way.”
― Madeleine L'Engle

“The matter on which I judge people is their willingness, or ability, to handle contradiction. . . . It's important to try and contain multitudes.”
― Christopher Hitchens

And apropos of absolutely nothing (except I reencountered it while searching Google for a "contradiction cartoon"), a smile to round things out:


  1. one of the many reasons I enjoy reading your blog is your clever way of writing.
    just wanted to tell you that

    1. Thanks! One of the reasons I love your comments is they make me smile!