The challenges presented by how writers talk to themselves while writing are symbolized in the legend of the Buddha after he
resolved to sit meditating under a bodhi tree until he obtained enlightenment.
On the third successive night, Gautama was taunted by the demon Māra who was
determined to keep him in the cycle of craving with “the last lash of Ego."
Riding in on
an elephant, Māra first assaulted him with nine storms and then unsuccessfully
with lust, thirst, and discontent, personified as the demon’s attractive
daughters. Guatama was undeterred from his meditation.
Māra’s next strategy was to
directly confront Guatama and “ask him by what right he sat there beneath the
tree." This vexation corresponds with a frequent struggle faced by
writers to view themselves as having the authority to write.
How Guatama choses to react to Māra
is important because he viewed her with non-violent loving-kindness rather than
condescension, in part because he recognized that Māra was a projection of
himself, a manifestation of his thinking. Guatama responds by touching the ground with his
right hand—a gesture routinely depicted on statues of the Buddha—which then
causes Māra to fall off his elephant and his armies of distractions to flee.
An analogous gesture for writers is a placing of a
“hand” on their immediate writing circumstance, claiming the cognitive-physical
space for their own, banishing audience ghosts, and recognizing the discursive
straying power of their own internal talk.
most consequential illusion manufactured by internal talk is that an
audience is present during the activity of writing and has immediate access to
a writer’s words as they’re produced. It’s as simple as believing that writers
occupy the same space at the same time as readers.
In actuality, any audience noted during a present
rhetorical situation is a construction of the writer’s intrapersonal rhetoric:
an amalgamation of the writer’s thoughts about the past and best guesses about
an interpersonal future.
Intrapersonal rhetoric is the self-to-self interior
discourse that assigns a position inside the writing situation to an interlocutor
self or a chimeric reader—often both as the experience fluctuates. Usually,
much of intrapersonal rhetoric is devoted to maintaining this illusion.
whatever reason, probably our education, we don’t imagine a reader in our
workspace who welcomes a draft from us, who Christmas
Carol-like visits us from the future (or the past) to counsel us about a
Instead, the imaginary reader presumes access to a polished
text: part of the haziness of audience comes from the flickering between two
visualized scenes, one in which a reader appears in the writer’s work space
expecting a polished piece regardless of its location in a writing process and
the other in which the writer’s text acts as the writer’s emissary and goes
forward, without the writer, to the reader’s future space.
The problem of course is that the text has
yet to be finished—it also is an imaginary entity—and no matter how much time
remains for us to complete the task, the impression is that a deadline has
already passed. We also continuously denude our actual context for best
guesses, conjecture, wishes, and hopes, giving up information we could have
gained from the present rhetorical situation, a poor exchange.
Gethin, Rupert. The
Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford, 1998.
Lopez, Donald S. The
Story of Buddhism: A Concise guide to Its History & Teachings. Harper,
Trungpa, Chögyam. Meditation in Action. Shambhala, 1970.