There was a quote that spoke to me yesterday as I sat in the cafe of a bookstore working. I had left home because I had begun to feel isolated and shut away, and needed to be out in the world, seeing the changing tableau of people. As it turned out, my preferred seat by the great arched windows opened up soon after I arrived, and I sat at the little table, opened my laptop, and was rewarded with several hours of very productive, focused writing. In the midst of it, while checking a reference document, I found this quote by Russian journalist and playwright Isaac Babel, about the process of revising one's work.
“I work like a pack mule, but it’s my own choice. I’m like a galley slave who’s chained for life to his oar but who loves the oar. Everything about it...I go over each sentence, time and again. I start by cutting all the words it can do without. You have to keep your eye on the job because words are very sly, the rubbishy ones go into hiding and you have to dig them out – repetitions, synonyms, things that simply don’t mean anything...I go over every image, metaphor, comparison, to see if they are fresh and accurate. If you can’t find the right adjective for a noun, leave it alone. Let the noun stand by itself. A comparison must be as accurate as a slide rule, and as natural as the smell of fennel...I take out all the participles and adverbs I can...Adverbs are lighter. They can even lend you wings in a way. But too many of them make language spineless...A noun needs only one adjective, the choicest. Only a genius can afford two adjectives to one noun...Line is as important in prose as in an engraving. It has to be clear and hard...But the most important thing of all...is not to kill the story by working on it. Or else all your labor has been in vain. It’s like walking a tight-rope. Well, there it is...We ought all to take an oath not to mess up our job”
Then, this morning, my brother-in-law sent me the following quote in connection with my June 2 post, "Love is the What." It references Schubert Ogden, author of The Reality of God and Other Essays. My brother is a deeply religious man, engaged in the long work of renovating a great ship of a cathedral, 167 years old. He cannot have known the degree to which this quote would help me resolve a very particular challenge in an editing assignment that I was, at the moment I read his email, engaged in. The universe can be wondrous. Here is what Ogden proposes is meant by our use of the word "God":
"The word God refers primarily to the objective ground in reality for our fundamental trust in the meaning and worth of life. That is, whatever it is about reality that invites and undergrids our trust in life’s meaning is what is meant by 'God.' Thus when we trust in the worth of life, we are trusting in God, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Belief in God is really inescapable for us. Even the atheist, who explicitly denies that there is a God, really does trust in God as the ground of confidence in life’s meaning. What the atheist rejects is a certain idea or concept of God."
I might go back to the same cafe this afternoon and try to get my seat next to the window. Here's hoping the magic will work as well as it did yesterday.