“I must not …”, the effect of writing lines in childhood

I began the day recalling my bath of the previous night, which was scolding hot as usual and reaching the point where soon I would have to get out or faint as I sweated through another page of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. It was often when I was in the bathtub that my most cogent ideas struck me; yesterday was no different. When I reached the point where to read another sentence would probably have resulted in cardiac arrest, I laid the book down and leaned back — this was the last phase of the nightly bath — and as I was doing this, there came an exciting new thought: if I was no longer going to write, as I had begun to worry that I wouldn’t, then I should at least write about not-writing. And was so struck by the idea that I rose from the tub, dripping, to jot it down, which I was now doing. I was writing down the idea “I no longer wish to write” by writing down that I was writing it down. I wanted a threshold to open that also would be like a question, something that asked me about my living in such a way that I could finally understand it. I couldn’t understand why my days unfolded the way they did and why they took me away from writing. I was writing “I no longer wish to write” repeatedly, and, in making this gesture, uncovered distant, repeated scribbling from my childhood: “I will not tell a lie”; “I will not leave the top off the peanut butter”, “I will never raise my voice.” Each declaration filling tens of pages, and this was a kind of writing similar to what I believed I’d been doing for some time— a writing so as not to write, so to find the limit (that last line) beyond which the body is free to roam outside once more.                       Renee Gladman, Five Things, The Paris Review, Summer 2016

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