I read an essay about celestial navigation this week (what an amazing thing to be able to do! and so complex!), and although I had a hard time understanding it, it made a lot more sense when I read the author’s notes about writing the essay at the end. I have often been frustrated by the gap between what is in my head and what comes out on the page, but the metaphor to navigating by the stars makes that gap feel almost . . . mystical.
“Navigation, at its heart, relies on fiction and illusion to discover absolute truth. It struck me that there is a near perfect parallel between a navigator’s attempt to discover his exact position and the writer’s attempt to express in an exact way what is so clear in his imagination, the perfect truth about being human, but which never survives intact onto the page.
Both the navigator and the writer can never reach perfection, can never really achieve the exactness which is their ideal — the world simply creates too much fiction and possibility for error. Yet the art of both navigating and writing lies in approaching that ideal, which requires an act of faith in yourself and in the craft.”
–Philip Gerard in his notes on his essay, “Adventures in Celestial Navigation” from In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind