This is the last in a series of posts I wrote the week of June 19, when my wife and I were cruising to Bermuda aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.
A few days ago I said I wanted to talk about liquids and gases, and I never got around to the gases. Well, here it is. I want to talk about air, or more precisely, breathing. A lot of what I’ve been up to on this cruise is reading and writing. I have spent the better part of most mornings wandering around the ship with reading and writing materials. I’ve written in my journal. I’ve written blog entries. I’ve read an issue of the Christian Science Monitor. I’ve finished one book and started another. I’ve been seeing reading and writing as two sides of the same coin, and I’m seeing reading as something that nourishes me, and writing as something that I do to nourish other people. Reading is something I bring in, writing something I give out. Reading is inhaling, writing exhaling.
But that’s not quite right. I don’t blog about what I’ve read. (I do plan to do that soon, though. I was very moved by the book I just finished, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. I want to blog my thoughts on that once I’ve had a chance to browse her blog some at home.) I blog about my own experiences, either from the present or the past. So what does reading have to do with that?
Well, in one way, reading is where I get my words from. I have learned all of the words I use by reading. Granted, I don’t believe that I learned any of the words I’ve used in blog entries this week in Furiously Happy or the Monitor, but every time I reread a word, or a turn of phrase, it gets further enhanced and nuanced in my inner lexicon, and I imagine that I unconsciously learn new sentence structures and poetic flourishes whenever I read…at least whenever I read something good. So while the content of my blog is generally based on my own experiences, the structure is formed from the things I read. The content is the air that I expel from my metaphorical lungs, and the structure is the sounds I make with my vocal cords? Maybe. But then that wouldn’t work with the idiom I’m developing here.
Let’s look at it differently. Let’s think about speech. Speech is formed from two things, like I just said: exhaling of air and conscious control of vocal cords. And both of those things rely on the prior intake of something. In the case of the lungs, the ability to expel carbon dioxide is predicated on the prior intake of oxygen. That fills the lungs, so the pulmonary blood vessels can do their work of exchanging O2 for CO2. That’s a pretty quick and dirty, quid pro quo, in-the-moment exchange. I’m doing it right now, over and over again, as I type this. I do it really well even in my sleep. The vocal cords, however, get their orders from somewhere much higher in the chain of command, the cerebral cortex. And they rely on a much more complicated series of intakes. Before my vocal cords engage, my brain has processed sounds and sights; it has called to mind memories both old and recent; it has drawn connections and parallels, and determined the precise way to express the result of all this work. So speech is the combined exhalation of both air and experiences.
Is there a parallel with writing? Well, not quite. Writing doesn’t involve an involuntary survival mechanism (breathing) the way speech does. Writing involves the fingers, and to a certain extent, the eyes. But those things are merely the accident that enables the actual work to happen. They are the method the brain uses to share the insights it’s developing.
And that’s the point where my wife showed up, and we went to get some lunch. I spent the rest of the cruise not writing. I could try to finish this here, but I think I’d rather leave it where it is. Feel free to try to complete the thought in the comment section. Or just ignore it. Whatever seems right to you!