In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway wrote about his early struggle to identify the concrete actions or sensations that caused an emotion. The art of writing lies not only in describing external events but in noticing the emotions stirred by such events and identifying precisely what caused the emotion. Skilled writers can bring their readers to feel an emotion when it is accurately set-up in their story:
I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.
As a person who feels everything keenly, I appreciate the beauty of a novel based on how it transports me into the world of feelings and emotions. There’s only so much I care about the physical set-up of a novel as long as I can inhabit the emotional life of its characters. Hemingway’s advice to notice an emotion and work your way backwards to describe how it came about inspired me to start writing-up my own deeply felt emotions. It’s a writing practice that I find both soothing and enlightening.
The text below was born out of a moment of pure delight. A mere flash whereupon I felt the weightlessness one might feel at the top of a roller coaster. It came and went but it lives on in my mind as something I recall when I need relief from the oppression of everyday worries and blocked creativity.
The road strays through the highlands’ bedrock like a streamer unrolling, erratic. On the horizon, the yellow line dips, dives and disappears at the will of a curve, only to reappear farther and narrower. Cedar and Spruce line the granite cliffs, their roots gnarled around rocky crimps and crevasses. A turn reveals a clearing of rolling hills covered in the bright emerald of the windswept grass. In the car, the landscape runs like a movie to the sound of Castle on the Hill:
“Found my heart and broke it here
Made friends and lost them through the years
And I’ve not seen the roaring fields in so long, I know I’ve grown
But I can’t wait to go home”
Wooden fences and grazing cattle announce a homestead. Driving up a hill, the road takes another sharp turn as it descends along the soft roll of a field. The urgent guitar riff leads into the chorus as a teenager on a dirt bike bursts from beside a cedar cop, his hair dancing in the wind. For an instant, we drive side-by-side as the music beckons:
“I’m on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill”
The music continues as we part ways but I keep the feeling of wind in my hair and the weightlessness of speed.