Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"The Indweller's Aversion" and other selections from WONDERFUL INVESTIGATIONS by Dan Beachy-Quick

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Right after college, my friend and I read Walden aloud as we hiked in the Sierra Neveda mountains.  It was a wonderbursting time of my life, and in my journal I wrote passages like the following: "The climb up--hard in snow and rock avalanche-damaged areas, but definitely do-able and not overwhelming.  The descent--smooth and easy.  We reached a warm, windswept little lake in no time and sat down on its bank for dinner and Walden.  After two pitiful brave Boy Scout boys passed, oblivious in their pain, we stripped down and strode into the rainbow blues for a chilly dip.  We were surrounded on all sides by peaks.  We lay in the sun to warm up our now-prickly and sensitive bodies, and read a bit more.  Everything was so beautiful that I felt like I was drinking it in, swallowing greedily like I do water from the bottle after a hard climb.
This sometimes stark, sometimes lush natural beauty is like water for the soul.  Necessary element without which the soul dries up, becomes brittle, unseeing, dead.  The vital connection is gone.  I am so lucky to be here."  I also copied quotes in my journal such as: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.  Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains," and "I went to the woods there to learn what it had to teach."  In my youthful enthusiasm, I knew I didn't understand much of what Thoreau was writing, but I loved much of the book, almost as if it gave me language with which to see my life.

When I taught the book to high school students several years later, I had the sense that I understood less about Thoreau's project than I'd believed.  I was decent at living, but bad at reading.  I had no idea how to question thinking itself.  To date, I have not returned to the book.

Now through Dan Beachy-Quick's eyes, I see: borrow, buy, begin.  I want to read Walden again. "The Indweller's Aversion" sparks an exhilaration that I had when I was a young adult.  Yet now it feels centered on an achievable goal: to make of the Old Parsonnage in Freeburg (the home where Silas and I live) my own wonderful investigation.  To make it the center of the world.  To do the morning work, the work of song.  

In "Meditation in the Hut," Beachy-Quick investigates reading and says, poignantly, that "to read threatens the identity of the reader as directly as reading informs it."  Are you open to being double, being multiplied, to be the horde of eyes looking through your eyes?

Our final selection, the prose story of "The Children, The Woods," shakes me up.  This story of two children feels memorable although it is not my preferred style of short fiction.  It is about being the song, about becoming through your life many things: a boy, an outcast, a prey, a grandson, a wolf, a brother.  Note its heavy relationship to the essays.  E pluribus unum, people.


  1. Before you can even be split, your entire self must be connected. Thoreau suggests you first dig, that you must align the work of the body with the work of the mind. Like the house Thoreau builds, you are your own creation, an extension of “the true home.” Dan Beachy-Quick argues in his essay “The Indweller’s Aversion” that it is “better to be an awful man and know oneself as such, than to be a ‘good’ man and know oneself not at all.” We are each the mirrored hero who must wrestle with the monsters of what we are. To discover the extent of ourselves, Beachy-Quick necessitates the physical divorce from society. In his short story “The Children, The Woods,” the boy can only assume his rightful role as a wolf and a brother after being forced from his home. If we are to ever achieve this ultimate self, we must turn from the “fractious whole” of society and find fulfillment within the fragmented self.

    Writing splits us. Writing and words are tools of doubling. Words name the world but are not a part of the world. To speak it is to imitate that which exists, but the speech itself is not an original entity. Perversely, the written word is the only tool that can circumvent and contradict time. It bridges the gap between the moment of the reader and the moment of the writer and, though this bridge, destroys what time has passed. And though the written word is eternal, nothing is eternal. To describe something is create the replica of that thing, existing parallel but wholly apart from the world. There is no intelligence or knowledge. Intelligence depends on what is and what cannot be understood; knowledge is a construct that separates wonder and reality. Wonder splits us as well. We are and we are not. We are understood; and we, by definition, cannot be understood.

    Beachy-Quick writes, “The reader lives within the dreamer’s mind.” Reading, he says, “adds a world to a world, adds a self to a self.” Later he continues to explain how books prepare a child for sleep because sleep, like reading, is also a little death. In providing a double world, books give children the security to sleep, to rest knowing that as a separate world exists, so does their own. The first step of reading denies the self; the second step reveals the self. The boy in “The Children, The Woods,” is less than full in his father’s retelling of his sister’s kidnapping. Yet retold on his own, in the woods, the boy is able to recognize the self and embrace his true identity. “Reading,” Beachy-Quick writes,” is discovering truth, or what feels in text like truth, so that truth can return to nothing.”

  2. It's hard for me to say which of these readings was most confusing to me because they were all challenging, yet interesting, in very different ways. The reading that provoked the most thought for me though was "The Indweller's Aversion." I think part of the reason this essay really stuck with me (even though I felt like I didn't understand half of it) is because in my Biblical Ethics class, we are talking about the environment, global warming, climate change, etc. and looking at what the Bible has to say about the relationship between humans and the environment. I feel like (as I type this on my iPad) in today's world, technology sets us so far apart from nature that we as humans no longer know what nature really is. Even if you don't believe in the Bible's creation story where man is created to care for the earth and give every living thing a name, I still think it's interesting to think back to when humans lived in caves and were apart of nature. Now, I don't feel very much a part of nature as I cross campus with my eyes and fingers glued to a screen.

    My anthropology professor last semester told me that humans have almost no instincts and are completely reliant on learning to survive. It makes me wonder what would happen if we all just completely left the world of technology behind and became one with nature again. What would happen if we tried to return to a time when there was no barrier at all between humans and nature. I'm not talking a couple decades ago before smart phones and tablets. I'm talking about before humans started building any form of permanent housing that was more than mud and sticks. What is it like to actually be a part of the natural world versus the one we have built up around ourselves? Where does man fit in the natural world when you strip him of technology and any luxury of the developed world of humans?

    (Sorry, I have to post this as 2 separate comments. I got a little carried away.)

  3. Dan Beachy-Quick says, we must turn "away from social reality in order to witness and participate in the deep-set reality of the world" (Beachy-Quick 44). This is what I'm getting at. I want to know how does one give up social reality in order to participate in one's natural place in the circle of life? (Yeah, I'm going all Lion King on this.) He also describes reading Walden as "the myth of recovery, the return to presence. To read Walden is to seek not as to discover, but to reclaim, to recover. To read Walden is to seek not what hasn't yet been, but to search again for what already is" (57). This convinced me that maybe I want to read Walden because seriously what he is describing is what I want to know. I'm not looking to discover something new. I want to understand what once was common knowledge for our species. I want to recover the natural part of ourselves that we have lost. Somehow, I don't think reading Walden though will satisfy my wondering. I don't want to read it. I want to live it. Breath it. I want to become a wolf. I want my "silence [to become] wild, [to become] another sense, revealing the world rather than hushing it" (146). There is something beautiful and amazing about the idea of silence, perfect silence in nature away from technology, revealing to us what used to be a part of us.

    Dan Beachy-Quick also says, "We must learn to put aside sense and knowledge to regain our infant hold on the elements" (61). Talk about an innocence vs. knowledge conflict. Though this is not our childhood innocence, but the lost innocence of our natural selves. We are part of a line of humans that as been born knowledgable. We know so much about technology, medicine, science, the way the world works, yet we know nothing of what a human in nature is. Why don't we have instincts? Was it always like that? It couldn't have been right? So where did they go? What happened to them? What happened to our space in the ecological system? I seriously wish I could forget the knowledge I have been born into and feel what a real human is because honestly I don't know what it means to be human. Do you? I actually want to challenge myself to one day embrace nature and try to live off the land or go extreme camping or backpacking, completely severed from technology, for a long period of time to try to regain our lost innocence. Hike the AT (I've actually always wanted to do that and never really knew why, but I think reading this essay gave me the answer). But how can I make my mind forget so much? How long would it take?

    I think this line from "The Indweller's Aversion" really sums up what I'm trying to say/do here: "We must be heroes wrestling with the monsters we are" (61).

    Isn't that line beautiful? And who doesn't want to be a hero? Besides, isn't the greatest conflict, the biggest battle, the hero faces the one he sees in the mirror?

  4. To call Beachy-Quick's writing heavy is a drastic understatement. I would try to make a simile, but I feel that I can't create an appropriate comparison. He has a way with words that is almost mesmerizing, and to be frank well over my head. I feel when I read this like I am a very small person before an insight so vast that I can't really comprehend it properly. That being said, trying to grasp a fragment of the meaning behind Beachy-Quick's words is also exhilarating. I don't know anything about Thoreau, yet I feel like I should read something from him after seeing such an eloquent examination of his work. "Thoreau's work in Walden is a morning work, a work of auroral observation." It's invokes a feeling of beauty and purity that I feel like I want to explore.

    Beachy-Quick is a writer who seems to inspire thought. Nothing I read failed to inspire me to think, to try and understand, regardless of whether I really managed to understood it or not. I think that he summarizes it best in this line: "One of the curious aspects of reading is that it fills the mind with a peculiar resource. It's as if the convolutions of the brain were some sort of multidimensional library." The mind really is a truly strange and convoluted thing, yet Beachy-Quick has seemingly mastered the art of not only dissecting the thoughts of others, but then using his own words to provoke new thoughts in the people that read his own writing in turn. It's a strange cycle, but I find it intriguing as I read through more. Perhaps I simply lack the understanding to fully comprehend him, but I find it worth it to experience his work.

  5. Dan Beachy-Quick’s poetic tendencies are eminently apparent in his writing. His prose is dense and labyrinthine. It wanders in circles around its topic before driving straight through its heart with a well placed image or metaphor. In “The Indweller’s Aversion,” Beachy-Quick discusses Thoreau and the writing of Walden, and by doing so addresses the core of the creative process. On page thirty-seven he writes that “digging is also the work of the mind.” As we build the houses of our creations around us, we must also burrow down into them. Just as writing begins with forgetting what we know, building begins with destruction. We must both have a firm foundation in those who have come before us in this craft and also destroy that foundation in order to create; “for every motion down, there will be a sympathetic and corresponding motion up.” We must learn, but let knowledge make way for wonder.
    In “Meditations in the Hut,” Beachy-Quick discusses the intertwining of reading and writing. The two cannot be separated from each other, yet must be for the sake of creation; “whatever the poetic mind is, it is one in which fullness must be transformed into emptiness.” Before we can write we must “suffer the emptiness of needing our own words.” While the scholar must remember, the poet must remember and forget.
    Although I have to appreciate Beachy-Quick’s lyrical prose and vivid imagery, I sometimes felt that he chose language at the expense of clarity. In other words, his poetic style sometimes obscures his point, rather than making it. That being said, his language can also have the opposite effect of cutting right to the heart of his topic.

  6. I have a feeling that “The Indweller’s Aversion,” like Walden, is something that I could repeatedly throughout the different years of my life, and every time, I would think something different about it. Of the three selections we were supposed to read, this is the one that I found most challenging to understand. From what I understand right now, after reading “The Indweller’s Aversion” for the first time, Dan Beachy-Quick uses Thoreau’s acts in Walden as kinds of metaphors, to show us things not only about indwelling but also perhaps writing. On page 38, he says, “The first act of building is destructive. One needs to learn to make a space of nothing within something; one needs to work to begin with abyss.” I see the connections in the later piece “Meditation in the Hut,” when he talks about reading and memorizing poetry, and then obliterating your memory of it. Both aspects have destructive elements, but the destruction is then used to make something. As far as the rest of “The Indweller’s Aversion” goes, I’m not sure what to make of it, and I’m not sure if I agree with what I think is being said. I recognize the value of self-reflection, the need to know ourselves and get away from influences. I think most writers would fall under the category of “introvert” because what we do requires us to reflect deeply on internal emotions and thoughts. But I don’t know if I agree that cutting ourselves off from other people is right. I think that while people and “the real world” can be distractions if you let them, they also can help you realize things about yourself. So I disagree with Thoreau’s belief that “…the ‘virtuous,’ like flatterers, stop one from being able to know oneself, and in doing so, stop one from knowing the world.” I think it’s a kind of hubris if we believe that only our personal reflections and indwelling can help us understand and know the world. Our interactions with others can also give us insight.
    Of the three pieces, I liked “Meditation in the Hut” the best. I felt that it was the most relatable to me and the easiest to understand. Talking about reading is a tricky thing, but Dan Beachy-Quick does it in a way that’s not too mystical or sentimental and yet accurately portrays the feeling. I love the idea that “the book is the burden we choose to hold” (page 113). I know that I have often gotten so caught up in a book, entangled in the lives of characters, that I forget that it’s fiction, and my emotions are entangled and mangled along with the book. I think that when we read, or when we read well and read something well-written, we lose ourselves. I love that feeling. It’s what made reading so appealing to me in the first place. It was an escape, from the world and myself. I could be another person in another place whenever I wanted. I cherished being multiple, being more than I was or could ever be.
    The short story through me for a loop. It was refreshing to read an accomplished, renowned author write something that reminded me so much of fantasy. The beginning was so full of promise, I thought, and I was so excited, but then my excitement waned as I read on. It seemed like he was writing this story to include the ideas that he talked about previously. I can easily see the influence of the other two works in this piece. When he said, “The boy was an absence with an absence inside him,” I immediately thought of “Meditation in the Hut” and how a book was a world within a world. Everything about silence and how the boy immersed himself so completely in the forest and then in wolf form speaks of Walden and “The Indweller’s Aversion,” that getting back to nature to find oneself theme.
    It is clear to me that Dan Beachy-Quick is an incredibly thoughtful person who gives a lot of time and energy into thinking. Being interested in philosophy, I appreciate this characteristic, since philosophy is all about teaching people to think and question. Even though I don’t understand a lot of what Beachy-Quick is saying, I know that even if I thought I did understand, I would probably only have one piece of it.

  7. As contemporary thinkers, readers, and writers, we come to Beachy-Quick with a purpose in mind, something drilled into us, dug into our very beings, and I almost think that's completely counterproductive to what's being done in his work. We are not meant to be digging into his pieces, finding the hidden gem that he is "hiding" for us, and then moving on, enriched by this gem, and feeling that sense of accomplishment that discovering has always given us. We are not the high school English teachers, looking for the objective answer to put on the test, searching for the meaning so that we can properly explain it, with words that are not the author's words, with clear intentions. As we come to Beachy-Quick, we should not look at is as a riddle, because it is not a riddle. Maybe there is no answer. Perhaps what I understood from his work is not what he meant for me to, and while that was almost definitely part of his intentions, for him to lament over this would be strange. Words, in themselves, are not objective. They are only representations, only symbols we put to concepts that we cannot fully express, and at the same time, they are the only ways that we will ever begin to touch the concepts we've given names to. How do we, as humans, put into words a process as complex as creation? How do we come to understand it when we cannot, despite personal beliefs and backgrounds, even understand where we came from, the exact make of us? Words are not answers, though they can give answers. The answers we take from Beachy-Quick come from ourselves, come from digging, and something I think that we must do if we hope to succeed with his work is continue to dig, long after we've finished reading. Like Thoreau, we must dig until we begin to dig into ourselves, something beyond the words on the page, beyond whatever intentions Beachy-Quick had. And isn't that what writing intends to do, at its heart? It is never simply words on a page, an isolated incident. A story is never just a story. If it was, there would be no reason for it, it would serve no purpose.

    Why do we write? To create. Why do we create? To discover. How do we create? We destroy.

    When reading "Meditation in the Hut", I had to stop several times in order to think, to question, to digest, and that is fundamental in Beachy-Quick's work. How can creating be destroying? How, by forgetting, can we ever hope to create something representative of the world? But that's exactly what it is. Reading and writing can never be separate, but at the same time, they must be. Creating and destroying seem like direct opposites, and in some ways, they are, and in others, they absolutely are not. In order to create, we must step away from the notions we come to the page with, and at the same time, we must keep them, fill the page with them as we fill ourselves. We cannot rely on other's words. Words are meant to express, and when we are empty enough, when we have forgotten enough, when we long enough to dig, to make meaning of what is perhaps meaningless, endless, timeless, untouchable, we must and we will.

    To create is to destroy. Beachy-Quick's words will be forgotten, but in the same way, they will be remembered. I will take them to the page, to my life, to my experiences, and I will continue to dig and discover. It is not a riddle solved. If anything, it is a riddle begun.

  8. With Beachy-Quick, there was a lot of process for me. Witch each paragraph, in both his essays and his sort story, he piles in information and description. It is almost an overload, but he waves what he says so perfectly that you only need to meditate on it to further understand. He takes what seems to be something that could be entirely overlooked and pulls you deeper into it with him with his essays. He teases out of Walden fine details and builds in each paragraph a new understanding of it. Something I know that I could not puzzle out on my own, but through Beachy-Quick I can see what he wants to show me. I find it to be a talent that every writer should strive to master as perfectly as he has. To be able to lead a reader so well through what can be so daunting a piece of writing. Though I would not say that Beachy-Quick has a simple or easy way of writing, he is far from that. He at times seems as complex and mystifying as Walden can be. What makes Beachy-Quick understood is the way that he leads you through the essay. If you read him with the intent of understanding and are active there instead of passive, Beachy-Quick’s essays open up to you.

    In Beachy-Quick’s short story "The Childern, the woods" he spins a story in much of the same way as he writes the essays, though the leading here is exposing information about the character and the plot instead of another writer’s intent. It is done with just as much patience and conscience building. All of what he says has purpose, no paragraph in unused in its exploration deeper into the story. When the boy’s life begins with the story of his sister's captor and the silence of his mother, Beachy-Quick is already gearing it up to become something more than just the bed time story the father tells to his son. The bobble that shows the baby becoming a child, becoming a wolf. There is perfect placement of details. That, to me, is what I would like to be able to learn from to him. How to place your details and build your world in a story or an argument in an essay with such a precise use of language, the way he does.

  9. It was really interesting that Dan Beachy-Quick refers to creation, wonder, and various pieces of Greek mythology in both of his essays “The Indweller’s Aversion” and “Meditations in the Hut.” It helps tie the two pieces together, in my opinion. “Aversion” was actually pretty easy for me to understand; it was “Meditations” that was a little more difficult.
    I thought he raised some intriguing ideas – such as the idea that language and words are Typhon, the father of all Greek monsters, and that writers are Typhon’s children. In order to create our stories (a process which “occurs in agony,” he says), we must first create the foundation, and we do this as Thoreau created his house – he began by digging down to create a cellar. So too, must writers dig down into the Chaos that is under the Earth, worshipping the darker gods. The sacrifices required here for a good story are different than those for the Olympian and Titanic gods (as a side note, I never really realized how different levels of gods required different methods for sacrificing – the best example I can remember would be when Odysseus contacts the dead by offering sacrifices in a pit). Beachy-Quick says that Thoreau illustrates this with the eating of his simple bread, since eating is a form of sacrifice – it “is to recognize that the power to incur evil, or the power to avert it, lay equaly within the province of the self…” So as I see it, writers must recognize evil and harness it – we ourselves are the sacrifice required for our writing, our stories.
    Such is the case in Beachy-Quick’s short story, “The Children, The Woods.” The boy must sacrifice his humanity and (for the most part) his ability to speak in order to rescue his sister. He behaves like a wolf in order to survive and then eventually dons the wolf’s skin in order to find where his sister is being kept. By acting like a wolf and then becoming one, save for his human hands, other people would most likely see him as a monster or at least less than human. But this transformation into a monster is worth it because he rescues his sister. But there is more to it. The boy is warned to not wake his sleeping sister because she has not yet completed her journey – a journey in which she is searching for her brother, one that strongly parallels his own story. Like the writers/children of Typhon who create stories out of their own suffering, so it is implied that they boy is creating his own story (it could be that this is all his own dream) that is shaped by his hardships.

  10. Dan Beachy-Quick talks a lot about the idea of doubling, of a strange vulnerability that comes with reading and being two, yet also one. He also discusses eyes, how they work, how they let in the light. I love how he says “I have a little wound in my eye, and the light comes in.” Wound and light are two almost opposite ideas, and the thought of seeing through a wound is completely new to me.
    As I was reading “The indweller’s aversion,” my eye skipped to the line “Walden is an ignorant book.” Of course I knew what he meant by that, but I thought it was an interesting thing to say. He goes on to call Walden a “heroic labor,” which I would agree with, knowing what I know about Thoreau and his selflessness.
    I liked the thought “Words expressing thoughts are bullets, and then they are stones.” Beachy-Quick hovers around the idea of the pain of life and thus the pain of reading and writing, because of the truth that literature contains. Bullets and stones are associated with injury, but this statement also refers to the motion and momentum of language, the way it works on the writer and on the page.
    The short story “The Children, The Woods” is interesting because it is like a fairytale in some ways. I was surprised by the narration, because in poetry I have been studying the first person narration in Dan Beachy-Quick’s poetry, which I find really genuine and compelling.
    That said, I did see a lot of the elements of his poetry that I liked in his prose. As Megan said, his images are well-placed, and though the abstract concepts of time and wandering take up much of the writing, his story also contains concise, powerful images. His metaphors are also often precise, which allows me to accept his unusual style and immerse myself in the pieces.

  11. My favorite part of our readings, although it was in my least favorite reading, was the story of Abu Nuwas and Khalaf. Khalaf makes Abu Nuwas memorize and then forget thousands of lines of poetry before he can begin writing poetry himself. This is described as making places for the poetry, and filling these places with the poetry, then emptying these places, and having the desire to fill them back up with your own work. It did also mention that prose writers and poetry writers differ in this sense, because prose writers must remember what they read, although it was not exactly explained why. I liked this idea, that prose writers must remember the words of those who came before them in this ever challenging field. That is why in every creative writing class I take, at least half of our work is reading. Reading helps us to internalize forms and ideas. But, still, I wonder why prose writers must remember while poetry writers must forget. Why do they need the desire to be filled with poetry, and we only need to hear the words of others? I can think of no answer to my questions.