A Dazzled Heart
And as for how Ann Patchett saw what had happened between us?
As for how she regarded our curious miracle, about the Amazon jungle novel that had bounced out of my head and landed in hers?
Well, Ann is a far more rational soul than I am, but even she felt that something rather supernatural had occurred. Even she felt that inspiration had slipped away from me and landed—with a kiss—upon her. In her subsequent letters to me, she was generous enough to always refer to her Amazon jungle novel as “our Amazon jungle novel,” as though she were the surrogate mother to an idea that I had conceived.
That was gracious of her, but not at all true. As anyone who has ever read State of Wonder knows full well, that magnificent story is entirely Ann Patchett’s. Nobody else could have written that novel as she wrote it. If anything, I had been the foster mother who’d kept the idea warm for a couple of years while it searched for its true and rightful collaborator. Who knows how many other writers that idea had visited over the years before it came into my care for a while, and then finally shifted over to Ann? (Boris Pasternak described this phenomenon beautifully, when he wrote, “No genuine book has a first page. Like the rustling of the forest, it is begotten God knows where, and it grows and it rolls, arousing the dense wilds of the forest until suddenly . . . it begins to speak with all the treetops at once.”)
All I know for certain is that this novel really wanted to be written, and it didn’t stop its rolling search until it finally found the author who was ready and willing to take it on—not later, not someday, not in a few years, not when times get better, not when life becomes easier, but right now.
So that became Ann’s story.
Which left me with nothing but a dazzled heart and the sense that I live in a most remarkable world, thick with mysteries. It all called to mind the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s memorable explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”
But the best part is: I don’t need to know what.
I don’t demand a translation of the unknown. I don’t need to understand what it all means, or where ideas are originally conceived, or why creativity plays out as unpredictably as it does. I don’t need to know why we are sometimes able to converse freely with inspiration, when at other times we labor hard in solitude and come up with nothing. I don’t need to know why an idea visited you today and not me. Or why it visited us both. Or why it abandoned us both.
None of us can know such things, for these are among the great enigmas.
All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life—collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.
It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.
I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.