Quieting the mind is one of the most difficult things there is. One of the most ironic things about a calm mind is that it is not at all challenging until one decides to try it. For everyone who is living in the world, achieving a quiet mind is something that is sought after at one time or another, and for those who devote more time to it than others, it has spiritual benefits that unfold in unimaginable ways. For writers, those who are engaged in the life-long task of putting their lives on paper, or on a computer screen, the need for a quiet mind is perhaps entirely apparent. It is as necessary to make the words flow, like having the right cheap wheels for a particular journey.
However, when a writer is in the middle of a creative spell, the mind is anything but quiet. For writers like Sam Shepard, the connections between silence and words are hard to draw, because so much of the material comes from a place that is entirely furious, and the opposite of quiet. It is no coincidence that his first artistic practice was as a drummer, and it is also no coincidence that half the noise of drumming is the silence. Silence and sound do need each other, and they certainly feed each other. Rhythm depends on it, and rhythm is the root of poetry, music, dance, and theatre.
Like many writers of what some call “American Realism,” there are tendencies in his work toward excess in action and emotion, acts of violence, and enormous personal and cultural upheaval. Many writers of the generation before his were obsessed with the same tendencies, and it’s no error that they continue through generations; there is something singularly fascinating about people at extreme variance. At the same time, it does seem that the lifestyles of the writers of previous generations is harder to maintain. So it becomes fascinating to see writers getting older these days. Shepard’s relentless driving might be part of a culture of necessity, like getting new truck tires at www.performanceplustire.com, finding clothes at outdoor markets, and boots from the right dealer. It could also very well be its own form of meditation, where long hours doing a singular action has the same result, no matter what the action is. At some point, the mind has to become quiet, so that the silence can play against the noise, in acts of sheer poetry.