Open Letter: Disclosure and Conjurance, by Tom Spanbauer

Editor Staff, Letters, May 29th, 2015

"We must look inward at the wilderness."

spanbauer letter nailed magazine


I’m always writing things down on slips of paper. One day, I found this quotation on a slip of paper laying on my writing desk. The problem with the quote I’m about to give you is that I have no idea where I found it. So blessed be the person who said this. If any of you out there recognize this quote please tell me.

Quote: “Heidigger coined the idea of disclosure. Our highest dignity as human beings, what really sets us apart from everything else in the universe is our capacity to disclose new worlds. To open up to new possibilities. To capture something that we’re not used to thinking about. That is the only way that things show themselves when all the conditions of skill and all the relation between them are possible. And suddenly there is the experience of things opening up, a space of possibilities opening up, a way of inhabiting the world opening up. And it’s not like it was there all along, it’s not like the world of jazz music was somewhere there in the middle ages, say, or in the Greek world, just waiting to be discovered. It was something that had to have a space provided for it.”

I chose this quote because I’ve never really heard it put so well how I feel when I write. There’s something out there that I’m trying to get to. I don’t really know what it is, but I know it’s big and I know it’s out there and it’s waiting to be discovered. The feeling is of a tide, something surging under me, in me, any moment I will be in the sweet spot and I’ll be flying.


When Lidia Yuknavich interviewed me on Literary Arts online, she asked me a question about epistemology.

It was a question out of the blue and thankfully Lidia clarified epistemology as how we make meaning.

Disclosure is how we make meaning. Trusting our instincts, trusting that thing in us that knows there’s something out there, in here, that is yearning to be to be disclosed so as to capture this new possibility that we’re not used to thinking about.


Before I heard the term disclosure, this surge inside me, the promise of a space of possibilities opening up, the process of making meaning, I called conjurance.

Then I wondered: Is there a difference between disclosure and conjurance?

Both terms deal with creating something in the world that didn’t exist before.

To disclose.

To conjure.

Disclosure seems to suggest that the space is out there ready to be found out.

Conjurance has more the feeling that the space, the new possibility, is something that only exists because the writer is summoning it up.

Disclosure seems more scientific, more “out there” while conjurance smacks of magic and is more “in here.”


Each of us has a broken heart, each of us has that story to tell. Most of us think we know our stories. We’ve learned them the same way we learned to spell rhinoceros or chandelier. But once we sit down with a story, our story, once we sit down and have a real face to face, heart to heart, once we start getting down to the short hairs, it’s a wrestling match with an angel. This angel ain’t pretty.

It isn’t long before we find that the story we’ve spent our lives believing, the story that over and over was told to us, isn’t necessarily what happened at all.

It’s a STORY of what happened.

What we’ve learned is a story of what happened.

The only way to find out what really happened is to wrestle down the conjured angel. If you can overpower the angel, he will have a gift for you. The angel’s gift is a blessing. The blessing is a disclosure.

In other words, the only way to know your story, is to sit down and try to write it.

The disclosure, the conjurance, the place where new possibilities can open up, how we can capture something that we’re not used to thinking about, is to go back to our stories and retell them, not how we were told, not how we were taught to think about them, not as sons or daughters or lovers or ex-wives, but as ARTISTS.

The disclosure is recognizing as an artist that what’s been told to us aren’t the facts, but a version of the facts.

In The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller tells us that the infant child looks up into his mother’s eyes to see who he’s going to be.

Aren’t most of us some version of the story we saw in our mother’s eyes?

Just how did that story go?

Did you fail her? How did you succeed?


Disclosure, conjurance, science or magic, whichever term you’d prefer for this journey to the bone, the process is the same. Something exists now that didn’t exist before and this thing that exists is an awareness and because now that you know it, you are different and because you are different, the world is different.



And now I’m going to bitch about technology.

Our days, these days, are defined by science and technology. It seems we can’t really understand ourselves and our place in the world without first checking with Google.

Technology has had an especially profound impact on publishing, to the point where the publishing world we knew seven or eight years ago, no longer even exists.

Technology too has changed how we write.

Probably the greatest influence on our writing these days is film. There is no other art form as influential as film. Writing for film is essentially writing a map so that the technology of film-making can translate your map into a movie.

There is a very famous teacher of screenplay writing who has done his research. He found that it took Tolstoy seven pages to write an effective scene, and since Tolstoy did it in seven pages, that means now everybody else has to do it in seven pages.

That’s the scary thing about technology. You build one house and because the floor plan is efficient, production costs go down, so now you can build a million of them.

If you’ve ever tried to write a screenplay, then you’ll know how efficient and scripted the writing has to be. By a certain page, all the characters need to be introduced. By a certain page the main conflict needs to be established. By a certain page, the main conflict of the story has to reach a point where there is absolutely no hope left for our heroine.

When Ross Bell, the producer of Fight Club read my book, The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon, he called me up and told me it was the best book he had ever read.

But when he tried to fit the book unto a screenplay, it just wouldn’t work. The book would not fit into a standardized screenplay form.

Then Ross Bell called me back and told me my book was “flawed.”

Form and efficiency demand a kind of standardization.

I heard someone say the other day that you can always tell when the screenplay writer is of a certain age because the writer still makes two spaces after a period.

I’m not disparaging film, or screenplay writing. I’m only acknowledging its powerful effect on each of us when we sit down to our own personal writing.

As William Stafford says, in his poem “A Course in Creative Writing”:

“They want wilderness with a map.”


Most of us don’t have a clue where to start or even where the story is going to go. The three hundred pages you have to write before your soul discloses to you what it is that was waiting to be discovered.

And now with that discovery, you can begin to write.

On this journey to capture what we’re not used to thinking about, we got to throw out the blueprints. You’re wrestling with an angel, and it’s a battle of life and death, and the battle ain’t over until it’s over.

There are no demands that resources are to be optimized.

No requirements that you must get the world organized into seven page segments.

No rules. Total anarchy.

There is no map to the wilderness. There is no way to Google what your soul has not yet uncovered.

The most daunting part of this journey is that it is inward and you must do it alone.

There is no Facebook to look at for acceptance.

We each have a story to tell. The story is not like anybody else’s story. Not exactly. And the narrator telling the story is like no other narrator. When each of us looked into our mother’s eyes, each of us saw something different.

Completely unique.

Let technology and the corporate culture go on with their quantifications.

“Quantification is a technology of distance.” (-Jill Lepore)


We as writers today, as every other writer in every other age, must take the road not taken. But we of the technological age have a particular obstacle. We can’t pretend to believe that technology will do our soul work for us. Don’t fool yourselves, the robot of technology cannot take on the Dark Angel. Technology dictates limits, aspires for efficiency. Technology doesn’t conjure, or disclose. Technology can HELP us conjure or disclose, but that’s the extent of it. At the heart of technology there is no heart.

As ever, we must look inward at the wilderness and have the courage to believe through our skill, by keeping our ass on our chair, without a map, through faith and time and effort, through instinct and some sort of miracle, by wrestling down the angel so that he will bless us, that we will be able to allow something totally new to be seen by uncovering it.


That’s why I live in Portland.

You’re weird, Portland. It’s your way of inhabiting the world.

You’re the descendents of the Merry Pranksters. So it’s in your blood.

You’re stubborn enough to stay local.

You’re too smart to be standardized.

The rain makes you inclement and you drink too much coffee and you think too much.

You ride around naked on bicycles. (There’s some disclosure for you.)

You wear flip flop with bare feet in February.

You’re still young and clueless enough to believe in magic.

You’ve got people like Rhonda Hughes at Hawthorne Books, Matty Byloos and Carrie Seitzinger of NAILED Magazine, Forest Avenue Press, and so many other presses with spirit enough to take on corporate New York and its money changers by offering us a new template: publishing from the heart.

Portland, look at all your possibilities opening up.

Where else when you’re launching your new novel at the Pearl Room in Powell’s, can Walt Curtis stand up and yell: EXISTENTIAL OBLIVION?

Where else is it still cheap enough to rent an apartment, get a dumb job, and write?

Where else can you actually find people, whose VALUES are such, that they ASPIRE to be someone who wants cheap rent, and a dumb job so she can write?

Where else would a literary arts community award a queer, strangely dark, Dangerous Writer with AIDS who obsesses on race and gender, WHO WOULD AWARD ME, the Steward H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award?

You would Portland.

You’re a real angel of a city.

You’re cray cray and I love you for it.

Thank you Literary Arts, thank you Portland, thank you for this award. I will cherish it.

Thanks to all my students and special thanks to you Michael Sage Ricci.


What’s been told to us is a story.

What sets you apart is that you’re all a bunch of angels. Hell’s angels.

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Header image courtesy of Enrico Nagel. To view a gallery of his collage, go here.

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author tom spanbauerTom Spanbauer grew up on a farm twelve miles outside Pocatello, Idaho. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Highland High School. In 1969, he received his BA in English Literature from Idaho State University. Tom served two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa. He returned to Idaho until 1978, when he decided he needed to get out of that state. He moved to New Hampshire, then Vermont, then Key West, Florida. In 1988, Tom studied at Columbia University while waiting tables at Café Un Deux Trois and Odeon, and being a super of five buildings on East Fifth Street. In 1988, he received his MFA from Columbia in Fiction. In 1991, Tom settled in Portland, Oregon where he teaches Dangerous Writing in the basement of his house. Forty (more or less forty—-he’s lost count) of his students have published novels and/or memoirs. His novels include Faraway PlacesThe Man Who Fell in Love With the MoonIn The City of Shy Hunters, and Now Is the Hour.



More than one editor and/or contributor was responsible for the completion of this piece on NAILED.