Saturday, September 14, 2013

The first ever installment of PeterHogenkampWrites:the Saturday Evening BlogPost: The near occasion of writing.





Ok, you guessed it: I am a big Norman Rockwell fan. My office is full of his prints, including this one which a friend made for me with needlepoint. In his honor, I am going to (try, real hard, to) publish a blog post every week (you guessed it, on Saturday evening). There are a number of reasons for this effort, chief among them that I haven't written an original post in almost two weeks (There is no truth to the rumor that this coincides with the start of football season.)

So, the topic of the first installment? The near occasion of writing. In case you are wondering where this title came from, it comes from The Act of Contrition which Sister Ruth taught me in the second grade. (And I know that nuns have made great fodder for artistic medium of all kinds--books, plays, movies, Saturday Night Live skits--but Sister Ruth was a kind and sympathetic person who could look past someone's faults--and I had quite a few--to see the good in someone.) One of the things I love to do in writing is to take a word or expression with a common meaning and employ it in a different context. The line from the Act of Contrition should read I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.


I have always loved that line, if not necessarily always followed its advice. And so I am re-employing it in a different context, in an imitation is the most sincere form of flattery sort of way, to: The near occasion of writing. One of the great things about words is that different people interpret them in different ways, and my interpretation can be just as meaningful and full of inspiration to me as your (wholly different) interpretation can be to you. I therefore interpret avoiding the near occasion of sin to mean to stay out of brothels, crack houses, breweries, chocolatiers, bakeries, etc. Where ever you are likely to sin: Don't go there. Reconextualizing, the near occasion of writing means, Where ever you are likely to write well: Go there. As a case in point, I am writing this post at Caribou Coffee on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, NC. See below:


There are six reasons why I write best at coffee shops and bars, and only five of them are the traditional senses. If the smell of freshly brewed coffee doesn't get ideas flowing into my brain, then nothing will--with the possible exception of the actual freshly brewed coffee flowing into my body. But it's not just the caffeine, although in fairness I should state that I have never knowingly ordered a cup of decaf. It's the gemutlichkeit of the place, the vibrancy of the atmosphere. As a writer, I think vibrancy is the sixth sense. And although it is something you feel, it is quite different from the tactile sense. Vibrancy is the sense that something is alive; a vibrant place exudes possibility, and nothing is as important to the writer as possibility. I think of possibility as not what has generally happened or will usually happen, but what might possibly happen given the right mixture off circumstances.

I remember sitting at a cafe on the Piazza di Spagna on a warm summer night, doing some writing as my son did some last minute shopping. The other patrons spoke a dozen different languages, wore six different colors of skin, and dressed very differently. And although most were probably tourists like myself, enjoying a drink and the street performers, I imagined them differently. The Korean couple next to me were diamond smugglers; the large group of Slavic people behind me were clearly from the Russian mob; the Japanese man off to the side drinking a glass of Sangria was laundering money for the Red Army militants. When you are in a vibrant place, the ideas jump into your head like raindrops in a July thunderstorm, quick and furious.

Struggling with writer's block? Find a vibrant place. Need to get a paper done, find a vibrant place. Want to create something, no matter what it is? Find a vibrant place. Notice I haven't told you where that is. I know where my vibrant places are (although I am always in search of new ones) but yours may be different. I wrote the best chapter of my second novel--on my IPhone--sitting against the stone wall in the middle of Central Park, (you know, by the pond) listening to Natalie MacMaster on my headphones. Find your vibrant place; seek out the near occasion of writing.

Ok, that's enough, and it's evening in Russia where, according to Google analytics, there are a lot of people who read my blog (I would say, while drinking cheap Vodka, but some things go without saying.) Thanks again for your time and the endurance you showed getting through this post. Please sign up for the blog so that you won't miss the second installment of the Saturday Evening Post, coming, you guessed it, next Saturday evening. Ciao.