Do Butterflies Mate?

Sent out an e-mail the other night to my list of pals, the subject of which was writing and going away – going somewhere else – to do it, and of course a flood of responses came back with admissions of fear of writing. I’m not sure there is anything more distasteful than writing, whether heroic prose or a business correspondence. Why would anyone choose to make verbal expression a way of life when there is so much to absorb, so much to touch and feel?

Remember that Indian dinner we had with my friend Vas, when we talked about reading, and I made my little speech about how the benefits of reading are so tangible, so undeniable and heavy, and yet the cost so steep? As my sense of time and self shrink – the past, memories and desires, fills me up and intrudes on my now and on my future – I’ve found myself listening to the ticking as I read, and find myself more reluctant to pay the price for the fruits of literature and knowledge. 

I watched a pair of butterflies swirl around the garden yesterday, my last day in my writer’s paradise for at least two weeks, and found myself appreciating their aerial dance in words and symbols, rather than as, literally, a ballet of nature. Thinking ruined the encounter, because I can’t shake the self from my thoughts. Watching the butterflies yesterday was always: I am watching butterflies mate, and do butterflies mate, and never an empty fascination, the way nature was for me for years and years, through the Galapagos and the Serengeti and the Amazon.

Unfortunately, the thinking has become louder recently, and I find myself as if beside an airport runway while searching for a heartbeat. The nuances of flight, the tiny differences of body language among butterflies have become too difficult to grasp; I’m left with newspaper headlines, “Butterflies Mate While Writer’s Friends Toil at Desk and Hearth.” Then even this sort of insight is immediately attached by thousands of others, strands of imagination adhering like weeds to the riverbank while the experience of the moment shoots by, a harmless water on its way back to the sky.

The ignition, the cognition, the pistons of creativity, I love the process. Art is never in the profits, but always in the process – my little motto, worn around the collar of my dreams like a cat’s bell. I am only pretending to leap after the prey, only pretending to be hungry; I’d much rather spend the day scaring the hell out of little birds! This sojourn in the shadows of the volcano is meant to be a commercial test, a litmus of my relativity to the entertainment marketplace. I am certainly under no illusions that the chief goal here is writing for writing’s sake (or for the writer’s sake). The purpose is clear: Can I say something with resonance, a keepsake? 

This prostitution of the process I love so much bothers me not one bit. Perhaps because I am my only client, my own john, but also perhaps because I’m comfortable enough with the flow of words to open up a shop and put them out for sale. And this is the razor’s edge I’ve chosen to live on for the next few months, knowing full well however I am sliced and divided is just fine with me, as profiteer or processor, it doesn’t matter.