There is no mystery greater than our own mystery. We are, to ourselves, unknown. And yet we do know. The thought we cannot quite think is nevertheless somehow a thought, and it lives in us without our being able to think it. We are a mystery, but we are a living mystery. The most alive thing about us is what we are when thought breaks off and our mind can go no further—for that is where our yearning begins, our inconsolable yearning, and the loneliness that begets compassion, the forlornness that prepares the heart for love. A. Powell Davies
I posted this quote recently here in this spot. I posted it as I do all my quotes, because it captured my heart when I read it, so I wanted to pass it on. But on the day it sprang to new life on my website, I found myself pausing over it again. Not just admiring the words, the thought. Not just wanting to pass them on as “true.” But wanting to name the truth in my own life.
No mystery greater than our own mystery.
Every piece of fiction I have ever written has come out of “a thought [I] cannot quite think.”
I start with an idea that captures my imagination. There has to be struggle embedded in the idea. There is no story, at least in the traditional western sense of story, without struggle. But I start with something I pluck from the air or from a newspaper story or from something that happened to me when I was a kid just because it seems interesting. And if the idea is truly interesting to me, other ideas begin to fly to it, like iron filings to a magnet. It builds. And builds.
I never ask myself why I’m thinking of writing this particular story. Asking why would be a bit like slicing open a cat to see what makes her purr. I just keep turning the idea in my mind. And if it truly belongs to me—it keeps growing.
But I still don’t know what makes it my story. I just sit down and write it.
Sometimes I don’t know why I wrote this particular story until reviewers and readers begin to talk to me about it, to tell me what my words mean to them. And then, at last, I can say . . . “Oh! Of course!” Sometimes I begin to understand as I reach my story’s conclusion. (And interestingly enough, I always know where my story will end before I write the first word, but still it’s the writing of it that reveals its truth to me.)
My story becomes “the thought that lives in [me] without [my] being able to think it.” Which is precisely why I am compelled to bring it into the world as a story.
I wonder sometimes, have always wondered, whether someday I will no longer need to cloak my unknown self in story. Is it possible to become so transparent to myself that I won’t be compelled to search out my own mystery this way?
But then A. Powell Davis also said, “The most alive thing about us is what we are when thought breaks off and our mind can go no further—for that is where our yearning begins, our inconsolable yearning, and the loneliness that begets compassion, the forlornness that prepares the heart for love.”
“That is where our yearning begins, our inconsolable yearning.”
“And the loneliness that begets compassion, the forlornness that prepares the heart for love.”
Where have I ever heard a deeper, truer expression of the way story lives in us?