The interior life is often stupid

The interior life is often stupid. Its egoism blinds it and deafens it; its imagination spins out ignorant tales, fascinated. It fancies that the western wind blows on the Self, and leaves fall at the feet of the Self for a reason, and people are watching. A mind risks real ignorance for the sometimes paltry prize of an imagination enriched. The trick of reason is to get the imagination to seize the actual world—if only from time to time.

The world did not have me in mind; it had no mind. It was a coincidental collection of things and people, of items, an I myself was one such item… I could be connected to the outer world by reason, if I chose, or I could yield to what amounted to a narrative fiction[.]

– Annie Dillard, An American Childhood*

I am an introvert, but don’t worry. I’m not about to launch into one of those self-fascinated pieces about how I am special and misunderstood. It’s just that I do have a very interior life, full of reflections and broodings and spun narratives. I imagine most writers are like that (perhaps not all), but I was struck by this passage and how it crystallizes a constant struggle of mine to do an objective assessment of my reality and spring it free of fancy, to know know what I actually know, and what I’ve constructed.

Writers tend to fancy that every bird symbolizes their own hope, and it’s easy to forget that the bird is minding its own business. This is why I opined recently that I wished I had majored in some “hard science,” where enough information surrounds an object that you can understand it on its own terms: the bird striking across the sky becomes a kestrel, and you know a thing or two about its behavior and habits, so it is no longer a stark image but a living thing. It is not there to inspire you; it is chasing a wren.

This bears on a work in progress and an essential scene — essential to character, not to plot — and I now know what I was trying to accomplish with that scene, though I don’t think I actually need to change anything.

*I may post more about this remarkable book, which recounts a cognitive and perceptual awakening by a child with astounding detail. I do not think Ms. Dillard has ever written a book for children, but her ability to recall the experience of being a child is like nothing I have ever read.

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