How nice to hear from you again. I understand your intention very well, the intention for purity, to be able to describe things in a striking way so that you can capture their essence and pass it on to others.
If I understand you correctly, you are struggling with two projections: the first is that you are not good enough because you have not read enough and your language skills are too small. Or no, those are actually two projections again: not good enough, too little vocabulary.
You actually start with the most difficult. Describing small things, for example how cold it feels in your fingers. And then you think: I’m not good enough, because I can’t do the most difficult thing brilliantly. What exactly is that voice? Something immediately makes you do the most difficult thing imaginable in the world of writing, which then apparently does not succeed in a satisfactory way, and then you are not good enough, apparently, because apparently this voice knows very well who can be good enough and who cannot.
And the misery is that it is always true, especially when it comes to the most difficult things. Let me make a confession at this point: you think I’m some kind of fearless person who takes all kinds of psychedelics without any resistance, but nothing could be further from the truth. I had some negative experiences with such substances (1) and had developed a substantial resistance to them, and that resistance bothered me, I don’t want to have to be afraid of something, I don’t want to be resistant to a part of myself. And so after I turned 50, I started to overcome my fears in that area again.
And what is actually special about a substance like psilocybin is that it makes you very aware that words are actually not enough at all. For example, you see the most intense and indescribably beautiful colour, and such a colour should officially be described with the word ‘brown’. But the idea that you can describe this colour with that word is ridiculous, you have never actually seen this colour, it is an atmosphere that cannot possibly be summarised as ‘brown’.
So it is a mystical problem. A very normal problem actually. But why then this accusation against you? After all, nobody is ‘good enough’ to do this job. On top of that, it’s usually the dumber types who think they’re good enough, and the more intelligent types realise they’re inadequate, which makes it all the more difficult to keep a literature going that is worth its salt.
OK, then the second part of your first projection: your language skills are inadequate. As we saw above, that’s not really the case. It is more that it is virtually impossible to capture that real reality in words. It goes without saying that you will be more successful if you have a larger vocabulary, but I do have a serious caveat here too: this year, a balding fifty-something who loves simple and above all jezusloving poetry was reviewing my collected works, arguing that it was written almost entirely in tongues, as if he were the Spanish Inquisition itself. But I actually very rarely use words that I have made up myself, I don’t find that interesting enough, so almost all the words that he calls tongues are just existing (mostly) Dutch words, only this poor man doesn’t know them all, and so it all has to be called ‘tongue language’.
So that is also a problem you have to deal with as a writer. You have to deal not only with your own language skills, but also with the language skills of your readers. And if your own vocabulary differs too much from theirs, then you are a magician, or a tongue-twister, and before you know it you are being tied back to the seesaw with a duck or two.
In the modern world, an enormous linguistic capacity is therefore primarily a handicap. My advice to read those translations by Charles B. Timmer met with a wall of incomprehension even by Hermans 60 years ago. It all has to be more bare bones, more businesslike, less playful, more modern! And then 10 years later, even more bare bones, more businesslike, less playful and more modern! And so on – an assault on language, endlessly useful and efficient, until the monkeys will actually only need a few words to describe the world to each other: bollocks.
No, if you want to reach an audience, you certainly shouldn’t build up a large vocabulary.
Why you should is a good question. Can you capture a certain atmosphere and colour better if you have more words for the word ‘brown’?
I think the answer is both yes and no. I think that describing that real, pure reality is actually the terrain of poetry, and that in order to effectively describe the real, it is best to have as large a vocabulary as possible. But I also think that that is not the only thing that matters, that there are a lot of other factors that come into play. And finally, there is the dystopia of the underdeveloped reader who is only looking for entertainment. All in all, a complicated picture. What can you do with that as a pianist and aspiring writer? 🙂
Actually, not so much with the substances themselves, more that my story ego staged a kind of coup d’état. For example once I did LSD with a guy I didn’t know in my room and then I got a stomach ache and panicked because I didn’t know the guy and with every shot of pain in my stomach I thought ‘rat poison’ and the guy looked at me very weird with big eyes. And with every shot those eyes seemed to get bigger, rat poison eyes. Rat poison! Eyes! Until I ran. Setting – extremely important in this kind of thing, and definitely don’t do it with people you don’t know. Later your story ego turns this into a ‘bad trip’, but this had nothing to do with the effects of LSD. The stomach ache was probably caused by the tension or because there was something in the pill that did not resemble the famous substance (hence my thoughts)…