Essay IV: Saturation

Writing pours from the saturated one in the midst of her community. That is how we might put it today. In third century China, Lu Chi put it this way: “The poet stands at the center / of a universe, / contemplating the enigma, // drawing sustenance / from masterpieces of the past.”

The “enigma” is the perennial one, that there is anything at all, the enigma of being. Our niche is always already the wonder of existence, which includes our own embodiment of being in our own flesh.

The wonder includes the community of voices that surround us and to which we add our own voices. Lu Chi: “Studying the four seasons as they pass, / we sigh; / seeing the inner-connectedness of things, / we learn / the innumerable ways of the world.”

What we call the aesthetic sense is our way of reading the multiform surfaces of our environment. Unfortunately we use the word aesthetic to put down our flesh as saturated with the appearances of the world. As we contemplate our lives as writers, we need to redeem some twisted vocabulary.

Words matter. As we make sense of the aesthetic happenings in our life, we find the right words to express our experience. This process we may call “wording,” we “word” or “put into words” our intimate sense of things.

This “wording” is inseparable from selving. We know ourselves as part of the larger open-ended wholes of the events of our lives. As we reflect on our lives as readers and writers we get down to the basics of being.

Why bother thinking all the way down to the “to be” we share with all other beings? Ask the first writers who reflected on their experience: ask Parmenides, ask Heraclitus, ask Lao Tzu. Your way of being your self reflects the words the “ancient masters” of the kind referred to by Lu Chi: “sing in the clear virtue / of ancient masters.”

Loneliness and melancholy make the writer’s calling frustrating. But they go with the territory. As you “contemplate the enigma” with their words in mind, you will begin to feel better about your vocation.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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