A Sense Of Timing

Paul Auster wrote an interesting piece towards the close of his Red Notebook entitled Why Write? A short series of seemingly unconnected vignettes unfold, concluding with his meeting a baseball hero as a child and failing to produce a pencil with which to procure the hero’s autograph. From that day on Auster always carried a pencil in his pocket. It follows that if you have a pencil in your pocket, one day you are going to write something.

A little like: ‘sit in a barber chair long enough and you will get a haircut.’

The preceding vignettes are more illuminating, more open and suggestive to interpretation as to how they are related to the title of the piece. One involves his daughter tripping at the top of a narrow stairwell giving on to a large window which surely would have killed her had she fallen through the glass at the tail end of her fall, rather than into the arms of her father who happened, by chance, to be there. The other relates a night walk in woods when a lighting storm strikes and kills the boy by his side. The message, to me, and it is a good message, seems clear. Timing.

For the writing to be good it has to be pitched at the edge, the very limit of the experience. You have to be there, and you have to survive. One foot to the left and you will be struck dead by the storm. One foot to the right and your daughter will be cut to the marrow by the combined fate of velocity and glass. Right where you stand, in proximity to these points of punctuation, you will find your voice.