Concrete Abstractions of Fictive Dreams

Concrete Abstractions of Fictive Dreams
Photo by Elijah Mears / Unsplash

Over the weekend, I was at Dog-eared Books in Ames, helping at their Writer's Lab. We talked about concrete language, the difference between saying something specific like *I'm from the Pacific Northwest,* and *where the pines and cedars crowd the road.* 

That's a well-worn lesson, often bundled with sensory details and, if it's well done, coupled with the idea that it's part of the dance between that and the abstract. John Maguire's *Readable Writing Guide* [] does a fantastic job of getting introductory writers situated with how "concreteness" matters and where abstract ideas like "home," "place," etc. fit in. 

The event was my last for my time in Iowa. I'll be moving across the country to Virginia, where I'll join the faculty at Hollins University. And it's odd, I haven't really thought what it would be like there. For one, Roanoke, where the school abuts the Appalachian trail, has rounded mountains that lack the jagged teeth of the Olympics or the Cascades of where I grew up. Roanoke's mountains are all shagged in trees. Little streams vein the folds between the peaks. This landscape inspired Annie Dilard's *Pilgrim at Tinker Peak*, []. Every gas stop, not in the clutches of an imperial conglomerate, seems to have a crockpot of boiled peanuts with little dried drips stained from its lip. 

I can imagine these things in my head, but the idea of moving right now is purely concrete: the empty and checked boxes from the to-do lists, the search for rolls of clear packing tape, and boxes. 

And that's the space abstractions live in, that ambiguous space that demands the contemplation of a long walk. Short of concentration practice, a time of Zazen to meditate on only the flicker of light from the space above a candle wick, those times of quiet contemplation are needed to grapple with such big things that can't be so easily detailed and dropped on your foot. 

I've noticed that I, and maybe others, too, struggle even when offered those moments of quiet. I often grope for the cold glow of a phone. I wonder if we struggle with the complexities of the abstract simply because we don't practice enough time alone sorting and dancing with those thoughts long enough to let them conjure up concrete visions fit for fictive dreams.