I’m reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Its reputation precedes it. Dillard’s Pulitzer winner is on your list if you lean literary.

It’s a fascinating book, and reading it has surfaced an equation I can’t get out of my head: 

Attention + Audacity = Art


One minute you’re walking along Tinker Creek enjoying the sunset the next you’re seeing a frogs innards sucked out by a water bug, then swept into a detailed account of the violent mating rituals of praying mantis. Dillard takes us along as she explores every nook and cranny of not just Tinker Creek but her life and psyche. She spends a full chapter on the very nature of seeing and paying attention early on.

”I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.”


The book reads in a way where you’ll come to six pages down a rabbit hole having read about eskimo wolf hunting tactics, the introduction of starlings in America, and her memories of hiding pennies as a child. Snakeskins become time loops and for god sakes she named her goldfish Ellery Channing. 

It’s a spacey book, but Dillard warned of that in the first chapter. 

“I propose to keep here what Thoreau called ‘a meteorological journal of the mind,’ telling some tales and describing some of the sights of this rather tamed valley, and exploring, in fear and trembling, some of the unmapped dim reaches and unholy fastnesses to which those tales and sights so dizzyingly lead.

If she’s exploring these dim reaches with fear and trembling she doesn’t show it on the page. She isn’t afraid to go there. There being, well, wherever she wants. It’s sporadic but in a way that follows the random tendrils further than you expect. I keep wondering how someone writes a book like this. I’m out of my depth.

I can see many reading this book and getting lost. Or being put off, thinking it pompous. I can see the eye rolling. My reactions have been less eye roll and more of a guffaw. You as the reader must to be willing to buy in, or else you’re in for a bad time. 

Attention + Audacity = Art

As I’m wandering my way through the seasons with Dillard this equation sticks in my mind. She pays close attention, likely closer attention than most of us have ever done, and then has the audacity to let it all fly. 

This is a note to self: Pay closer attention and then be willing to go there. Be yourself, unfiltered, earnest, even if you could look corny or self-indulgent or ludicrous. 

This book found me at the right time. I’m at an inflection point. I can get a nice photo with a clean edit and a decent essay onto the page. But I’m looking off the edge into what’s next and I can see its more committing. The next step is more intimidating because my expectations are now higher and I understand the investment required to go further. The mindlessness of being a beginner is gone. It’s a heavy feeling, a weight, but once you get a glimpse of the next step you can’t unsee it. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling for many artists at this stage. 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a physical example of what’s next. What’s possible. I don’t think I’ll ever be audacious enough to name my goldfish after a transcendentalist poet, but good on ya Annie. You pave the way. 

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

For some more on audacity as an artist and creative expression… check this out from Ethan Hawke.

“Most of us really want to offer the world something of quality. something that the world will consider good or important, and that’s really the enemy. Because its not up to us whether what we do is any good and if history has taught us anything its that the world is an extremely unreliable critic. So you have to ask yourself, do you think human creativity matters?”

Leave a Reply