notes

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Bellow: ‘stillness in the midst of chaos’

In quotes about writing, writing on September 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.

~ Saul Bellow

Over the past few years – which have been at turns stormy, chaotic and/or distracted – I have had this quote in the front of my notebook and tacked to the wall in my office. I found it years ago in a calendar featuring photographs of acclaimed writers in their work spaces; these words accompanied a photo of Saul Bellow standing serenely in front of what appears to be a drafting table in a room filled with natural light.

When I see the photo and words, it reminds me what a gift it is to be able to step away from the chaos and write.

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from ‘Evening’

In lines worth underlining, reading on September 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Where were you all this time? she said. Where have you been?

I guess far away.

Yes, you were. Too far away.

They sat in silence.

You know you frightened me a little. At the beginning.

No.

You did.

He smiled at that.

You looked as if you didn’t need anyone, she said.

But those are the ones who need the most, he said.
Don’t you know that? 

I do know, she said. Too late.

Never too late to know something, he said. 

Maybe not, she said. But too late to do any good.

~ Evening, by Susan Minot

Saturday wake-up calls.

In running on September 24, 2011 at 1:01 am

Last year at this time,  I was struggling to get used to the idea of getting out of bed at 7 a.m. to meet my 5K training group by 8 a.m.  I’m not a morning person, and I was barely a runner, so this was a double whammy for me.

But I managed to do those Saturday morning slogs to the art museum or various parks around town. I came to think of these meeting/running spots as either miserable or quite nice, solely based on the number of hills on their trails.

Tomorrow will be my first early Saturday slog as a mentor for the 5K program, and I’m trying very hard to stave off the ‘what was I thinking?’ train of thought and go with a peppier script …  ‘isn’t it heart-warming that a whole year has gone by since those first miserable Saturday  long runs and you’re STILL running?’

Since I don’t do peppy first thing in the morning, those warm, fuzzy feelings probably won’t materialize until I’ve finished and made it to a coffee shop for my caffeine fix.

Here’s to doing things you never thought you could do — and better yet, helping other people get there, too.

Something to aspire to …

In writing on September 22, 2011 at 9:21 am

concinnity • 

: harmony or elegance of design especially of literary style in adaptation of parts to a whole or to each other

(from Merriam Webster Online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/concinnity)

from ‘The History of Love’

In lines worth underlining, reading on September 22, 2011 at 9:12 am

When Misha was young, his family went to their dacha every summer, and he and his father would take the nets down from the attic and try to catch the migrating butterflies that filled the air. The old house was filled with his grandmother’s china that really came from China and the framed butterflies three generations of Shklovskys had caught as boys. Over time, their scales fell away, and if you ran barefoot through the house the china would rattle and your feet would pick up wing dust. 

~ Nicole Krauss, “The History of Love”

‘When you catch an adjective, kill it.’

In writing on September 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm

‘I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.’
~ Mark Twain in a Letter to D. W. Bowser, 3/20/1880

A hefty stack of words

In writing on September 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

I have no idea what will happen with this kids’ novel of mine, but when I printed out a copy the other day, I found that the sight (and the weight) of all of those pages gave me a sense of satisfaction that will never diminish, regardless of how many rejections may pile up.

9/11/11. ‘Let the Great World Spin’

In reading on September 11, 2011 at 1:03 am

‘Years earlier, I had read an essay … about the walk that French tightrope walker Philippe Petit had made across the World Trade Center towers in 1974, a spectacular act of art and bravado in which the funambulist had walked back and forth a quarter of a mile in the air. From below, he might have looked like a speck of moving dust. The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty-seven years later.’

Author Colum McCann, quoted in an interview published at the back of Let the Great World Spin

backwards?

In writing on September 11, 2011 at 12:33 am

I realize now that I have gone about this book-writing thing backwards compared to most writers.

Most writers do the collaborating up front. They take do the logical, open-minded approach of joining writers’ groups and exchanging chapters for critiques all along the way. Now that I’m nearly finished, I am sharing excerpts more and more freely and comfortably, but before that, my sharing was sparse and informal. It’s not that I didn’t think my work could use critiquing; it seems to me that that’s a given for all but the most supernaturally gifted writers.

But for me, the joy of this project has come from the hours of stolen, solitary writing and imagining time – the exercise of seeing what my brain could conjure up. I knew myself well enough to be able to forecast the effect that writing groups and regular feedback would have – I would have begun second-guessing many of my decisions, and the joy of sitting around imagining the next twist and turn would have been lost.

I had to daydream and scribble and sketch and slowly type my way through the story alone and get the bones in place before throwing the story out for critique. I guess pragmatism would call for getting real-world feedback as early and often as possible in order to get to the desired end: a published book.

But this has always been as much about the — I apologize in advance for this tired metaphor – journey as it has the destination, and even if my solitary process means I’m left with a manuscript that doesn’t fly in the real world, I wouldn’t change anything.

No exploding lungs here.

In running on September 8, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I’ve noticed a new Facebook bell/whistle in the past couple of weeks — my status updates from the same day a year or two ago are appearing in the upper righthand corner. I find this both eerie and cool — eerie to see my words come back around with no effort on my part and cool because God knows I may not remember these little details otherwise.

Last year’s status updates were nearly all about the No Boundaries 5K training program I started in August (at Fleet Feet Sports in North Carolina) and featured my relieved, wry reports of completing yet another training session without my lungs exploding. It’s gratifying to read those a year later, especially since I’ve signed up to be a mentor for this fall’s program, something I could never have imagined this time last year.

I’m not running much faster than I did a year ago, but I can go for more than a minute without feeling as if I might die — and that is big, given that all of my earlier efforts to “take up” running over the years failed because I couldn’t get past that point of feeling I was going to drop dead on the pavement any minute.

As some ad campaign said way back when: ‘I’ve come a long way, baby.’

(Though now that I think about it, that ad campaign may have been for Virginia Slims cigarettes, so that might not be the best way to wrap this up.)

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