Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Place (page 1 of 2)

The Prince of Tides – Quotes with Page Numbers

From  Suzanne Wingo’s Poems

The Dedication:

Man wonders but God decides
When to kill the Prince of Tides.

Nature Writing in Prince of Tides

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. … I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my father’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river.” [p. 1]

“It was my mother who taught me the southern way of the spirit in its most delicate and intimate forms. My mother believed in the dreams of flowers and animals. Before we went to bed at night as small children, she would reveal to us in her storytelling voice that salmon dreamed of mountain passes and the brown faces of grizzlies hovering over clear rapids. Copperheads, she would say, dreamed of placing their fangs in the shinbones of hunters. Ospreys slept with their feathered, plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring. There were the brute wings of owls in the nightmares of ermine, the downwind approach of timber wolves in the night stillness of elk.

“But we never knew about her dreams, for my mother kept us strangers to her own interior life. We knew that bees dreamed of roses, that roses dreamed of the pale hands of florists, and that spiders dreamed of luna moths adhered to silver webs. As her children, we were the trustees of her dazzling evensongs of the imagination, but we did not now that mothers dreamed.

“Each day she would take us into the forest or garden and invent a name for any animal or flower we passed. A monarch became an ‘orchid-kissing blacklegs’; a field of daffodils in April turned into a ‘dance of the butter ladies bonneted.’ With her attentiveness, my mother could turn a walk around the island into a voyage of purest discovery. Her eyes were our keys to the palace of wildness.

. . .

“Melrose Island was a lozenge-shaped piece of land of twelve hundred acres surrounded on four sides by salt rivers and creeks. The island country where I grew up was a fertile, semitropical archipelago that gradually softened up the ocean for the grand surprise of the continent that followed. Melrose was only one of sixty sea islands in Colleton County. At the eastern edge of the county lay six barrier islands shaped by their daily encounters with the Atlantic. The other sea islands, like Melrose, enscarved by vast expanses of marshland, were the green sanctuaries where brown and white shrimp came to spawn in their given seasons. ” p. 2.

“I began to run down the beach. At first it was controlled, patient, but then I started to push myself, letting it out, until I was sprinting, breaking into a sweat, and gasping for air. If I could hurt the body, I would not notice the coming apart of the soul.

“As I ran, I considered the sad decline of flesh. I struggled o increase the speed and remembered how once I was the fastest quarterback in South Carolina. Blond and swift, I would come out of backfields with linemen thundering toward me in slow-footed ecstasy as I turned the corner and stepped toward the amazing noise of crowds, then lowered my head and dazzled myself with instinctive moves that lived in some fast, sweet place within me. But I never wept in high school games. Now I ran heavily, desperately, away from the wife who had taken a lover because I had failed her as lover, away from the sister too quick with blades, away from the mother who did not understand the awful history of mothers and sons. I was running away from the history, I thought–that bitter, outrageous slice of Americana that was my own failed life–or toward a new phase of that history..” p. 26

“It is an art form to hate New York City properly.

“My sister, Savannah, of course, matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her.” p. 27

“‘People that like to read are always a little fucked up.’ … ‘Savannah’s living proof that writing poetry and reading books causes brain damage.’ p. 28

. . .

[In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family].

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

[As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing].

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.’” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Denial and Masked Words

[When Tom first meets with Dr. Lowenstein, he is cynical, in an angry sort of way.  Instead of answering Lowenstein’s questions, he makes jokes out of them].

“‘I cannot help your sister if you only answer my questions with jokes or riddles.'” p. 52

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and made a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4, two stories twine around each other. While Tom and Savannah Wingo are being born during a South Carolina storm, their father is wounded in Germany. A German priest helps the father and brings him food. The father describes the food:

“Years later, my father would describe with undiminishable wonder the taste of that dark German bread, that slab of precious, hoarded butter smeared across that bread, and the red wine the priest gave him from the bottle. … all of us could taste it again with him, the wine spreading like velvet in our mouths, the bread, fragrant as earth, softening and melting on the tongue, the butter coating the roofs of our mouths….” p. 71

Healing Through Remembering

Chapter 5

[Tom begins to remember his past. Initially, he remembers to help explain Savannah’s problems, but gradually, he remembers as a means to help himself].

“After the first week, there came to be a shape and character to all those New York summer days–those introspective, confessional days when I spun out the history of y dispirited, sorrow-struck family to Savannah’s lovely psychiatrist whose job it was to repair the damage sustained by one member of that family.

“The story grew slowly and as it unfolded I began to feel an interior strength flicker into life. …and each day startled myself with some clear vision of memory I had repressed or forgotten. … Each memory led to another and another until my head blazed with small intricate geometries of illumination.” p. 84.

. . .

“In stillness, I started to keep a journal…. At first, I concentrated only on what was essential to Savannah’s story, but I kept returning to myself, able to tell the story only through y own eyes. I had no right or credibility to interpret the world through her eyes. The best I could do for my sister would be to tell my own story as honestly as I could.

. . .

“But first there had to be a time of renewal, time to master a fresh approach to self-scrutiny. I had lost nearly thirty-seven years to the image I carried of myself. I had ambushed myself by believing, to the letter, my parents’definition of me. They had defined me early on, coined me like a word they had translated on some mysterious hieroglyph, and I had spent my life coming to terms with that specious coinage. My parents had succeeded in making me a stranger to myself. … I allowed them to knead and shape me into the smooth lineaments of their non-pareil child. I adhered to the measurements of their vision. They whistled and I danced like a spaniel in their yard. They wanted a courteous boy and the old southern courtesies flowed out of me in a ceaseless flood. They longed for a stable twin, a pillar of sanity to balance the family structure after they realized Savannah was always going to be their secret shame, their unabsolvable crime. They [p.85]succeeded not only in making me normal but also in making me dull. … I longed for their approval, their applause, their pure uncomplicated love for me, and I looked for it years after I realized they were not even capable of letting me have it. … I needed to reconnect to something I had lost. Somewhere I had lost touch with the kind of man I had the potential of being. I needed to effect a reconciliation with that unborn man and try to coax him gently toward his maturity.

. . .

“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.

. . .

“Though I hated my father, I expressed that hatred eloquently by imitating his life, by becoming more and more ineffectual daily, by ratifying all the cheerless prophecies my other made for both my father and me. I thought I had succeeded in not becoming a violent man, but even that belief collapsed: My violence was subterranean, unbeheld. It was my silence, my long withdrawals, that I had turned into dangerous things. My viciousness manifested itself in the terrible winter of blue eyes. My wounded stare could bring an ice age into the sunniest, balmiest afternoon. I was about to be thirty-seven years old, and with some aptitude and a little natural ability, I had figured out how to live a perfectly meaningless life, but one that could imperceptibly and inevitably destroy the lives of those around me.

“So I looked to this surprise summer of freedom as a last chance to [p. 86] take my full measure  man, a troubled interregnum before I ventured into the pitfalls and ceremonials of middle age, I wanted, by an act of conscious will, to make it a time of reckoning and, if I was lucky, a time of healing and reconstitution of an eclipsed spirit.

“Through the procedure of remembrance, I would try to heal myself, to gather up the strength I would need to manifest as I guided Dr. Lowenstein along the declivities and versants of the past.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 84-87.

Callenwolde

“Behind the house, a large deciduous forest, circumvallated by a low stone fence, stretched al the way to Briarcliff Road. Thre were ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted along the fence at thousand-foot intervals. Our grandmother informed us in a breathless, conspiratorial voice that ‘very, very rich people’ lived in the property and that under no circumstances were we ever to cross the fence to play in those verboten woods. This was the Candler family, the heirs of Coca-Cola….

“But we would approach that fence after school each day, that deep-green perfumed realm forbidden to us, and smell the money coming through the trees. We longed to glimpse a single member of that noble and enchanted family. But we were children and soon we were climbing the fence and taking a few forbidden steps into the forest, often racing back to the safety of the stone wall. …Slowly , we began to demythologize the outlawed woods. Soon we knew the acreage of that forest better than any Candler ever had. We learned its secrets and boundaries, hid in its groves and arbors, and felt the old thrill of disobedience buoyant in young hearts gallant enough to ignore the strange laws of adults. Surrounded by trees, we hunted squirrels with slingshots, watched from the high branches of trees the lucky Candler children, looking serious and [p. 107] bored, cantering thoroughbreds down forest paths….

“The house was known as Callanwolde.

. . .

“We built a treehouse in one of Callanwolde’s extravagant oaks. … Quails called to us at dusk. A family of gray foxes lived beneath an uprooted cottonwood. We would come to the forest to remember who we were, what we had come from, and where we would be returning.

. . .

“It was early March and the dogwoods were just beginning to bloom. The whole earth shivered with the green tumult of ripening sun-soft days, and we were walking through the woods, looking for box turtles. [p. 108] Savannah saw him first. She froze and pointed at something ahead of us.

“He was standing beside a tree covered with poison sumac, relieving himself. He was the largest, most powerful man I had ever seen, and I had grown up with men of legendary strength who worked around the shrimp docks in Colleton. He grew out of the earth like some fantastic, grotesque tree. His body was thick, marvelous, and colossal. His eyes were blue and vacant. A red beard covered his face, but there was something wrong about him. It was the way he looked at us, far different from the way adults normally studied chidren, that altered us to danger. The three of us felt the menace in his disengaged stare. His eyes did not seem connected to anything human. He zipped up his pants and turned toward us. He was almost seven feet tall. We ran.

“We made it to the stone fence, clambered over it, and ran screaming into our back yard. When we reached the back porch, we saw him standing at the edge of the woods, observing us. The fence we had to climb over barely came to his waist. My mother came out of the back door when she heard our screams. We pointed toward the man in the woods.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 107-109.

Grandpa Wingo – Character Development Through Memorabilia

“Savannnah was the first person who ever said aloud that Grandpa Wingo was crazy.

“But it was a sweet, uncomplicated craziness if that is what it was.” p. 130

“Along the back roads of the rural South, he carried one suitcase filed with his clothing and his barbering tools and another, larger one, brimming with Bibles of all shapes and sizes. The least expensive Bibles were small, black, and utilitarian, the size of children’s shoes. But their print was small and could induce myopia if read too fervently in bad light. He considered it his duty to push the showier lines. The Cadillac of Bibles was one of dyed, milky white Naugahyde with gold tassels to use as page markers. It was sumptuously illustrated by the Biblical paintings of ‘The Great Masters.’ But the crowing glory of this radiant voume was that the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth were printed in vivid red ink. These most expensive Bibles were invariably snatced up by the poorest families, who purchased them on a generous time-payment plan. In my grandfather’s wake, poor Christians would often have to make the difficult choice between paying the monthly tariff for their flashy white Bible or putting food on their table. ,,. he would never bring himself to repossess a Bible once he had filled out for free the family chronology in the Middle of the book. He believed that no family could feel truly secure or American until they were all named up in a decent Bible where Jesus spoke in red.

. . .

“As a salesman of Bibles, my grandmother became something of a legend in the small-town South. He would hit a mill village or a crossroads town and start going door to door. If a family was no in need of a Bible, then someone in that family was probably in need of a haircut. He would cut a whole family of hair at a group rate. … He spoke of the life of Christ above the razor’s hum and the dense clouds of talcum as he brushed the falling hair fro the necks of squirming boys and girls.” p. 131.

Inherited Family Dysfunction

[Note: Grandpa Wingo’s wife had abandoned her husband and child when the boy was young. She returned years later, but Tom Wingo’s father was raised by a single father, the traveling salesman Grandpa Wingo]

“But as a traveling salesman whose territory covered five southern states, my grandfather often left my father in the lackadaisical. inconsistent care of maids, cousins, maiden aunts, or whomever Amos could rustle up to care for his son. For very different reasons, neither of my grandparents ever got around to the fundamental business of raising their one child. There was something unsponsored, even unreconcilable, about my father’s quarrel with the world. His childhood had been a sanctioned debacle of neglect, and y grandparents were the pale, unindictable executors of my father’s violations against his own children.

“My grandparents were like two mismatched children and their house retained some flavor of both sanctuary and kindergarten for me. When they spoke to each other it was with the deepest civility. There were no real conversations between them; no light, bantering moments, no hints of flirtation, no exchange of gossip. They never seemed to be living together, even after my grandmother’s return. Nothing human interfered with their unexplained affection for each other. I studied their relationship with something approaching awe because I could not figure out what made it work. I felt love between these two people but it was a love without flame or passion. There were no rancors or fevers, no risings or ebbings of the spirit to chart, just a marriage without weather, a stillness, a resignation, just windless days in the Gulf Stream of their quiet aging.

. . .

“I never heard Toalitha or Amos raise their voice. They never spanked us and were almost apologetic when they corrected us in the slightest way. Yet the had created the man who fathered me, who beat me, who beat my mother, who beat my brother and sister, and I could find no explanation or clue in my grandparents’ house. … My mother forbade us to tell anyone outside the family that my father hit any of us. She put the highest premium on what [p. 132] she called ‘family loyalty’ and would tolerate no behavior that struck her as betrayal or sedition. We were not allowed to criticize our father or to complain about his treatment of us. He knocked my brother Luke unconscious three times before Luke was ten. Luke was always the first target, the face he turned to always. My mother was usually hit when she tried to intervene on uke’s behalf. Savannah and I were struck when we tried to pull him off my mother. A cycle was born, accidental and deadly.

“I lived out my childhood thinking my father would one day kill me

“But I dwelt in a world where nothing was explained to children except the supremacy of the concept of loyalty.

“I learned from my mother that loyalty was the pretty face one wore when you based your whole life on a series of egregious lies.

“…I had prayed for God to destroy him….My prayers buried him up o his neck in the marsh flats as I prayed to the moon to make the ocean surge over him, watched the crabs swarm over his face, going for his eyes I learned t kill with my prayers, learned to hate when I should have been praising God. … Whenever I killed a deer, it was my father’s face beneath the rack of horns; it was my father’s heart I cut out and held aloft to the trees; it was my father’s body I strung up and emptied of viscera. I turned myself into something heinous, a crime against nature, … My mother taught us that it was the highest form of loyalty to [p. 133] cover our wounds and smile at the blood we saw in our mirrors,” p. 134

. . .

“If your parents disapprove of you and are cunning with their disapproval, there will never come a new dawn when you can become convinced of your own value. There is no fixing a damaged childhood. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float. p. 134.

Pat Conroy on New York City

“It is  an art form to hate New York City properly. So far I have always been a featherweight debunker of New York; it takes too much energy and endurance to record the infinite number of ways the city offends me. Were I to list them all, I would full up a book the size of the Manhattan yellow pages, and that would merely the prologue. Every time I submit myself to the snubs and indignities of that swaggering city and set myself adrift among the prodigious crowds, a feeling of displacement, profound and enervating, takes me over, killing all the coded cells of my hard-won singularity. The city marks my soul with a most profane, indelible graffiti. There is too much of too much there. On every visit I find myself standing on the piers, watching the splendid Hudson River flooding by and the noise of the city to my back, and I know what no New Yorker I’ve ever met knows: that this island was once surrounded by deep, extraordinary marshes and estuaries, that an entire complex civilization of a salt marsh lies buried beneath the stone avenues. I do not like cities that dishonor their own marshes.

“My sister, Savannah, of course matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her. It is these damaged birds of paradise, burnt out and sneaking past the mean alleys, that define the city’s most extreme limits for her. She finds beauty in these extremities. She carries in her breast an unshakable fealty to all these damaged veterans who survive New York on the fringes, lawless and without hope, gifted in the black arts. They are the city’s theater for her. She has written about them in her poetry; she has learned some of the black arts herself and knows well their ruined acreage.” p. 27

“Savannah knew she wanted to be a New Yorker long before she knew she wanted to write poetry. She was one of those southerners who were aware from an early age that the South could never be more for them than a fragrant prison administered by a collective of loving but treacherous relatives.” p. 28

. . . .

“It was not until my second week in the city that I developed the first unmistakable symptoms of the New York willies. I always felt an ineluctable guilt when I was just taking it easy in New York when all those grand museums, libraries, plays, concerts, and that whole vast infinitude of cultural opportunities beckoned me with promises of enrichment. I began to have trouble sleeping and felt as if I should be reading the complete works of Proust or learning a foreign language or rolling out my own pasta or taking a course at the New School on the history of film. The city always stimulated some long-dormant gland of self-improvement when I crossed her rivers. I would never feel good enough for New York, but I would always feel better if I was at least taking steps to measure up to her eminent standards.

“When I couldn’t sleep, when the noise of postmidnight traffic proved too dissonant or the past rose up like a pillaged city in the displaced instancy of dreaming, I would rise out of my sister’s bed and dress in the darkness. On my first morning in New York, I had tried to jog to Brooklyn but had only made it to the Bowery, where I stepped over the recumbent shapes of malodorous bums who slept in the vestibules of lamp shops on a street overripe with sconces and chandeliers. ” p. 135

Catholics in the South

“Until 1953 my family were the only Catholics in the town of Colleton. My father’s wartime conversion, the one radical act of the spirit in his lifetime, was a perilous and invigorating voyage on weedy, doctrinal seas. My mother accepted her own conversion without a word of protest. … And such was the nature of my mother’s naivetè that she thought her conversion to Catholicism would mean an automatic rise in her social prestige. She would learn, slowly and painfully, [p. 142] that there is nothing stranger or more alien in the American South than a Roman Catholic.

. . .

“But though the feasted on that succulent corpus of dogma whole hog, they they remained hard-shell Baptists masquerading under the veils and gauderies of an overripe theology.” p. 143

Creative Nonfiction Is More Than Just the Facts

For me, the first step in learning to write was to gather the courage and the energy to look at the facts of my own life and then, to record them, and I have done that diligently for the past year.

Now, I am working on the next step in my writing journey: I want to learn how to look at the facts of my life and to learn to tell those facts in a fresh, exciting, and original way. Great creative nonfiction [and the best memoirs are creative nonfiction] is more than just the facts.

While you are reading the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s memoir An American Childhood, it is not immediately obvious what the author is doing. Clearly, she is describing an area of lush vegetation, and if you have been to the area near Lake Chautauqua and Lake Erie, you might realize that she is talking about that part of western Pennsylvania. But then, she talks about Ben Franklin and George Washington, and after that, Dillard’s purpose might become vague, and it might take a bit more reading for you to realize that this highly skilled author is  creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

Image result for an american childhood by annie dillard“When everything else has gone from my brain–thePresident’st name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and wat it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family–when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: The dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.

“I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses’ bricks burn like glowing coals.

“The three wide rivers divide and cool the mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. The Monongahela meet and form the westward-wending Ohio.

“Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other buildings’ clean sides, and illumine the narrow city canyons below, where people move, and shine reflected red and white at night from the black waters. [p. 3]

“When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only those forested mountains and hills, and the way the rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt mountains rise in darkness from the rivers’ banks, steep from the rugged south and rolling from the north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long north and south unbroken that to get around them you practically have to navigate Cape Horn.

“In those first days, people said, a squirrel could run the long length of Pennsylvania without ever touching the ground. In those first days, the woods were white oaks and chestnut, hickory, maple, sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the mountains’ lumpy spines stuck up and their skin was thinnest.

“The wilderness was uncanny, unknown, unknown. Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove in Philadelphia by 1753, and Thomas Jefferson was a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. But west of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania, there was not even a settlement, not even a cabin. No Indians lived there, or even near there.

“Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut out the sun. Few songbird lived in the deep woods. Bright Carolina parakeets–red, green, and yellow–nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees’ trunks, ruffed grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, and every long once in a while a nervous gang of empty-headed turkeys came hustling and kicking through the leaves–but no one heard any of this, no one at all.

“In 1753, young George Washington surveyed for the English this point of land where rivers met. To see the forest-blurred lay of the land, he rode his horse to a ridgetop and climbed a tree. He judged it would make a good spot for a fort. And an English fort it became, and a depot for Indian traders to the Ohio country, and later a French fort and way station to New Orleans.

“But it would be another ten years before any settlers lived [p.e 4] there on that land where the rivers met, lived to draw in the flowery scent of June rhododendrons with every breath. It would be another ten years before, for the first time on earth , tall men and women lay exhausted in their cabins, sleeping in the sweetness, worn out from planting corn.” Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood, pgs. 3-5.

When I read the first chapter of An American Childhood, I felt the same way that I did after I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Poisonwood is fiction and Dillard’s book is nonfiction; yet, the quality of the writing for both pieces is the same. I realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I understand that I have only been writing a year, but I am eager for the day that I will be able to nudge into the company of great writers, like Annie Dillard, who has learned how to tell her story and in doing so to share more than just the fact.

©Jacki Kellum October 11, 2016

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Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Day 3 – Write about A House in Your Past

Think about All of the Houses That have Become Main Characters in Books: Tara in Gone with the Wind, Grandfather’s Cottage in Heidi, Bleak House, the Castle in I Capture the Castle, etc. Learning to describe a house is important for anyone to provide a setting or a sense of place for his writing. Our strongest and most readily available descriptions stem from homes our actual experiences; therefore, today, you will practice creating a sense of place by describing a house where you have lived

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Exercise Day 3: Write about a House that was Meaningful to You in Your  Past.

The house may have been one where you lived, or it may have been a place where you visited quite often. It is important that you actually stayed in the house for a long period of time.

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As I was preparing this assignment, I remembered one of my very favorite books about a House, Virginia Burton’s The Little House.  The following images are from Amazon:

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Image result for tara gone with the wind exterior

Without a doubt, the book and the movie Gone with the Wind had great influence over my life, and if you think about it, Tara, the house, was one of the main characters in that story

 

Image result for heidi's grandfather' house It is not necessary that the house that you describe is grand, however.  I am as attracted to Heidi’s Grandfather’s cottage as I am to Tara. In fact, if I were forced to choose one of those two places to live–Tara or Heidi’s Grandfather’s Cottage–I would choose the latter.I love the warmth and the coziness of the cottage.

Your writing exercise for Day 3 is to write about a House that was meaningful to you in your past, Don’t focus on any specific rooms in the house. Tomorrow’s exercise will be to write about one of the rooms.

You may notice that we are drawing closer and closer into a place that is important to you.

  1. On Day 1, you described a county where you have lived.
  2. On Day 2, you described a town or a neighborhood where you have lived.
  3. Today, you are describing a house where you have lived.
  4. Tomorrow, you will describe one object in that room.

When you write, you need to be specific. You need to avoid vague generalizations. The  first four exercises of the Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class will help you learn to write specifically.

Get busy an d write.

©Jacki Kellum October 3, 2016

As I have said before, in sharing these exercises, I am Blogging to Book. For that reason, you may not share any of the Free Jacki Kellum Writing Exercises or the other discussion about the exercises.  They are free for you to use but not free to reproduce or share.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about Your Town

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about a Town or a Neighborhood Where You Have Lived

The second  Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the towns where you have lived and describe one of them. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

Note: If you grew up in a big city, like New York City, you may want to write two articles–one about all of New York City and one about the area where you lived, like Long Island or Manhattan.

After you decide the area to describe, begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a town or a neighborhood where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the area. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

This exercise will make more sense for people who live in smaller towns. People who live in large cities may want to write two article: one about their cities and one about the neighborhoods where they grew up.

List of Fictional Towns:

When I think about writing that has evolved around fictional towns that were inspired by the writers’ homes, I immediately recall Winesburg, Ohio, and Our Town, but more contemporary books have also evolved in the same way:

In Under the Dome, Stephen King’s Chester Mills, Maine, is based on Bridgton, Maine, which is one of Stephen King’s hometowns.

Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, Pa, is also based on the area where she grew up.

Now You See It . . .: Stories from Cokesville, PA by [Monk, Bathsheba]

It’s pretty much a straight shot from the upstate New York towns of Richard Russo’s books to Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, PA. This is coal and steel country. The sort of place where an inch of soot on the windowsill means a regular paycheck—and two inches means a fat one. And what’s the best make-out spot in town? Next to the burning slag heap.

In seventeen beguiling, linked stories, spanning fourty-five years, Monk brings a corner of America alive as never before. Her world bursts with indelible characters: Mrs. Szilborski, who bakes great cake, but sprays her neighbors’ dogs with mace; and Mrs. Wojic, who believes her husband was reincarnated—as one of those dogs. Then there is the younger generation: Annie Kusiak , who wants to write, and Theresa Gojuk, who dreams of stardom. Cokesville is their Yoknapatawpha; they ache to escape it and the ghosts of their ancestors and the regret of their parents. What ghosts—and what regrets! When Theresa’s father Bruno falls into a vat of molten steel, the mill gives the family an ingot roughly his weight to bury.

As deliciously wry as Allegra Goodman in The Family Markowitz, and with the matter-of-fact humanity of Grace Paley, Bathsheba Monk leads us into a world that is at once totally surprising and recognizable. These stories glow like molten steel. Amazon

This is the area where Bathsheba Monk grew up.

From The New Yorker

Monk, who grew up in Pennsylvania coal-and-steel country, sets her stories in the fictional town of Cokesville, where gardens grow through slag heaps, women scrub their sidewalks free of soot, and men scrounge for jobs that are likely to kill or maim. Set mostly among Polish immigrants and their descendants over a forty-year period, the stories use deadpan humor to combat a sense of hopelessness and economic futility. The most compelling are narrated by an adolescent would-be writer determined to avoid the “lava show” make-out spot, where carts dump molten coke and girls her age get pregnant. Even those who escape, however, can’t seem to free themselves from the slow burn of their heritage, much like a decades-old underground coal fire, ignited “when someone dumped a load of garbage down a mine shaft.”=

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“Winesburg, Ohio (full title: Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life) is a 1919 short story cycle by the American author Sherwood Anderson. The work is structured around the life of protagonist George Willard, from the time he was a child to his growing independence and ultimate abandonment of Winesburg as a young man. It is set in the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio (not to be confused with the actual Winesburg), which is based loosely on the author’s childhood memories of Clyde, Ohio.

“Mostly written from late 1915 to early 1916, with a few stories completed closer to publication, they were “…conceived as complementary parts of a whole, centered in the background of a single community.”[1] . . .

“Winesburg, Ohio was received well by critics despite some reservations about its moral tone and unconventional storytelling. Though its reputation waned in the 1930s, it has since rebounded and is now considered one of the most influential portraits of pre-industrial small-town life in the United States.[5]

“In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Winesburg, Ohio 24th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.[6] . . .

“It is widely acknowledged that the fictional model of the book’s town, Winesburg, is based on Sherwood Anderson’s boyhood memories of Clyde, Ohio,[18][19] where Anderson lived between the ages of eight and nineteen (1884–1896),[20] and not the actual town of Winesburg, Ohio located in the same state. This view is supported by the similarities between the names and qualities of several Winesburg characters and Clyde’s townspeople,[21] in addition to mentions of specific geographic details of Clyde[1] and the surrounding area.[22]” Wikipedia

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“Our Town is a 1938 metatheatrical three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.” Wikipedia

“Throughout, Wilder uses metatheatrical devices, setting the play in the actual theater where it is being performed. The main character is the stage manager of the theater who directly addresses the audience, brings in guest lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. The play is performed without a set on a mostly bare stage. With a few exceptions, the actors mime actions without the use of props.

“Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938.[1] It later went on to success on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals are frequent.” Wikipedia

©Jacki Kellum October 2, 2016

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Blog to Memoir Find Your Path – Day 1

Buckle your seatbelt. You are about to begin one of the most powerful journeys of your life. As you may or may not know, this is phase 1 of 4 events that will not only change the way that you look at life but will also enlighten you about the way that you write–about the way that you write everything and not just about the way that you write Memoir.

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Blog to Memoir: Find Your Path is Phase 1 of the entire Blog to Memoir Program,which will arrive in intervals over the next year.  Find Your Path is the simplest of the four phases. In fact, as you complete the first half of the daily writings for Find Your Path, you will probably begin to balk, feeling that you have not been challenged and that you are possibly wasting your time. Mark this spot and highlight these words: Do ALL of the writing exercises–even the ones that seem ridiculously simple. There is a method to my madness. The initially very simple and non-threatening writing exercises are designed to overcome problems that writers may have formed

  1. Writer’s Block – Most of us are plagued by writer’s block to one extent or another. Most of us have been bullied by our Self-Editors, and most of us are a little bit leery of writing because of our Self-Editors.
  2.  Writing with Pretty but Meaningless Words – Others of us may have formed some bad writing habits, such as  cloaking our passages with pretty, but meaningless images.
  3. Writing What You Believe that People Want or Expect You to Write – Another problem occurs when we write what people expect us to write and we fail to write what is truly on our minds.
  4. Writing that is Safe –  One of the worst mistakes that a writer can make is that of failing to take a stand.
  5. Writing that is Superficial – Many of us are slightly afraid to peer into some of our darker corners, and we may have developed a tendency to write about abstractions and about things that aren’t terribly personal.

Great writing is deliberate and specific, and poor writing is generalized. One of the biggest mistakes that a writer can make is to write about things that seem to interest everyone else but that only vaguely interests himself. That is like being the person who always tries to please everyone and who continuously straddles the fence, trying to do so. Invariably, the fence straddlers are those people who want to please everyone and in doing so, they please no one at all.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

In the current realm of Social Media, where being “liked” becomes the raison d’etre, it becomes tempting to simply chit chat when we write. In other words, it becomes tempting to use meaningless words that won’t offend anyone at all. Being liked is important to most people. It has certainly always been important for me, and at times, I have stayed in the middle of the road–striving to please everyone, but I didn’t even like myself when I was doing that.

As we move through the course, I’ll be saying more about all of the above. For now,  I simply want us to jump right into the writing. I do want to assure you that by writing all of the responses to the very simple and almost safe prompts in Phase 1 of the Blog to Memoir Course, you will gradually break out of some of the behaviors that I have outlined above. After about a week of writing, I’ll begin to explain things that you need to know about these behaviors and about why you need to write more authentically. To begin, however, simply write. Your initial writings will be short and sweet, but I have plans for your extra time.

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is Not

  1. This course will not be your confessional. It will not challenge you to write a series of tell-all’s, and it will not dare you to slice open your veins and bleed.
  2. This course is not about some radical therapy, and it will not be a substitute for Alcoholics Anonymous, for joining Codependency Groups and for seeing your mental health professional. When I suggest that you look into your past, I am not prodding you to exorcise all of the demons that might be there. That is someone else’s job.
  3. This course is not for people who want to continue to wallow in the pain of their pasts,

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is

  1. This course is a logical next step for many people who have already identified that things were not perfect for them when they were children. This course is for people who are ready  to move on.
  2. This course  is for people who want to alchemize the experiences of their childhood and to allow them to transform into gold.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 1: Write about a County

The first Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the County or a Region where you have lived and describe it. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a county or region where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the county. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

Learning to write about setting and places essential for every writer in every genre. When we are able to zoom in on an area that we truly know, we create better settings and we are better able to bring those settings to life.

faulkner-Portable map

William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County

  1. William Faulkner’s writing focused on what appears to be the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, but Yoknapatawpha County is actually Lafayette County in Mississippi. It is the county where Oxford, Mississippi is located, and Oxford is where William Faulkner lived. 
  2. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County evolved over time, and in the beginning, no one is expected to recreate a county of that portion. But everyone, even William Faulkner, began somewhere, and our actual memories are the best place to start.  
  3. As I said before, we’ll continue to explore our writing about our counties. What you write today is only your first step,

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Most of us would like to forget or bury some of the chapters of our pasts, but that is not actually possible. In trying to forget who we are and where we have been, we only succeed in numbing ourselves and killing our authentic writing voices.  The secret to becoming a better writer is to tap into your past and harness it and allow it to sail you forward.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – by Arthur Rackham

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.” – James M. Barrie [ Author of Peter Pan]

Why Blog to Memoir?

  1. When we write about the actual experiences of our lives, our writing is fresher, more alive, and more authentic. For that reason, excavating your memories is an invaluable exercise–a way to create vivid writing samples for any of your other writing.
  2. It is not necessary for you to actually blog your writing. You may simply check out the daily writing exercises and explore them on your own. Throughout the course, however, I’ll share several ways that blogging daily has improved both my writing and my outlook on life. I heartily recommend writing daily, and for several reasons, I am convinced that blogging is the best way to store your writing. Blogging regularly is also a good way to build your brand and to share your writing with others. Note: You do not have to make your blog public.
  3. Several people have successfully completed books by blogging the parts of their books one by one and then, by assembling the parts of the book at the end. This practice has been labeled Blog to Book. For the past year, I have been blogging my memoir [and several other books] one step at a time. Soon, I plan to assemble my memoir pieces together and to submit my own memoir book for publication. Hence: I Am Blogging to Memoir  Book, and you can, too.

“We’ve forgotten how to remember, and just as importantly, we’ve forgotten how to pay attention. So, instead of using your smartphone to jot down crucial notes, or Googling an elusive fact, use every opportunity to practice your memory skills. Memory is a muscle, to be exercised and improved.” – Joshua Foer

I’ll run the free writing class through my blog site jackikellum.com Here
& through the site that I specifically created for the class: blogtomemoir.com. Here

Each day,  I’ll post the daily assignment by 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time USA. I believe that early morning is the best time to write and for that reason, your writing assignment will be ready for you first thing each day.

©Jacki Kellum October 1, 2016

Writing about Houses and Objects Inside Houses -Quotes from the Book Great House by Nicole Krauss

Please Note: The following summary is a spoiler. My primary reason for studying this book was to note how an object of furniture can play a significant role in both a story and a book. I also read this book as a study of books told from multiple perspectives.

On one level, Nicole Krauss’s book Great House is about an old writing desk that had nineteen drawers. On another level, the book is a series of stories about the family who had originally owned the desk, and the desk becomes the  common thread of the stories. Great House is told from multiple perspectives.

I Part 1 of the book and in the subsection “All Rise,” the year is 1972 and Nadia, a writer, acquires the desk from the fictional Chilean poet Daniel Varsky, who suggests that the desk may originally have belonged to Lorca, who was an actual person.

In 1972, Nadia takes possession of Varsky’s furniture, including his desk. She had recently divorced, and she had no furniture. She agreed to keep Varsky’s furniture until he returned for it.

A few years later, Varsky was assassinated.

In 1999, a person claiming to be named Leah Weisz and the daughter of Daniel Varsky called, saying that she wanted to reclaim her father’s desk.

While waiting for the person who called herself Leah to come and take the desk away, Nadia realizes that the desk was more than a piece of furniture to her and says the following about it:

“I looked across the room at the wooden desk at which I had written seven novels, and on whose surface, in the cone of light cast by a lamp, lay the piles of pages and notes that were to constitute an eighth. One drawer was slightly ajar, one of the nineteen drawers, some small and some large, whose odd number and strange array, I realized now, on the cusp of their being suddenly taken from me, had come to signify a kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life, an order than when m work was going well, took on an almost mystical quality. Nineteen drawers of varying size some below the desktop and some above, whose [p. 30] mundane occupations (stamps here, paper clips there) had a far more complex design, the blueprint of the mind formed over tens of thousands of days of thinking while staring at them, as if they held the conclusion to a stubborn sentence, the culminating phrase, the radical break from everything I had ever written that would at last lead to the book I had always wanted, and always failed, to write. Those drawers represented a singular logic deeply embedded, a pattern of consciousness that could be articulated in no other way but their precise number and arrangement.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 30-31.

The second Segment, “True Kindness,” introduces Dov, Dov’s son, and Dov’s brother Uri. In this segment, we are also introduced to the house:

“WE STOOOD in the hall of the house that had once been all of our house, a house that had been filled with life, every last room of it brimming with laughter, arguments, tears, dust the smell of food, pain, desire, anger, and silence, too, the tightly coiled silence of people pressed up against each other in what is called a family.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 106.

The brothers leave the house, and twenty-five years later, one returns:

“And just like that you walked back into the house that you had left so long ago. I heard your footsteps slowly ascend the stairs.

“Were they the lepers, Dov, those other kids? It that why you held yourself apart? Or was it you And the two of us, closed up together in this house–are the saved or the condemned?”

“A long silence while you must have stood at the threshold of your old room. Then the creak of the floorboards, and the sound of your door closing again after twenty-five years.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 113.

In the third section, “Swimming Holes,” we discover that the desk is in the apartment of Lotte Berg, who lived in England. Her apartment overlooked a section of bombed ruins:  

“Many times I saw Lotte staring at those ruins with their solitary chimneys. The first time I visited her room I was amazed at how little was in it. She’d been in England for almost ten years by then, but, aside from her desk, there were only a few sticks of plain furniture, and much later I came to understand that in a certain way the walls and ceiling of her own room were as nonexistent to here as those across the street.

” Her desk, however, was something else entirely. In that simple, small room it overshadowed everything else like some sort of grotesque, threatening monster, clinging to most of one wall and bullying the other pathetic bit of furniture to the far corner, where they seemed to cling together, as if under some sinister magnetic force. It was made of dark wood and above the writing surface was a wall of drawers, drawers of totally impractical sizes, like the desk of a medieval sorcerer. Except that every last drawer was empty, something that I discovered one evening while waiting for Lotte, who had gone down the hall to use the lavatory, and which somehow made the desk, the specter of that enormous desk, really more like a ship than a desk, a ship riding a pitch-black sea in the dead of a moonless night with no hope of land in any direction, even more unnerving. It [p. 126] was, I always thought, a very masculine desk. At times, or from time to time when I came to  pick her up, I even felt a kind of strange, inexplicable jealousy overtake me when she opened the door and there, hovering behind her, threatening to swallow her up, was that tremendous body of furniture.

“‘One day I got up the courage to ask her where she had found it. She was as poor as a church mouse….her answer plunged me into despair: It was a gift, she said. …nothing more was said on the subject.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 126-27.

Lotte moves into the apartment of her lover [the narrator of this section], who had hoped that she would leave the desk behind, but she did not.

“I heard a pounding at the door, and there it was, resting on the landing, its dark, almost ebony, wood gleaming with a vengeance.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 130.

A young man named Daniel Varsky visited Lotte, and she gave the desk to him. Lotte’s lover didn’t undertand why, but he discovered that Lotte had given up her own son who was about the same age as Daniel Varsky.

In the fourth section, the year is 1998, and  Isabel oIzzy, the narrator of this story, meets and falls in love with Yoav Weisz. Yoav and his sister Leah were living in England in a Victorian house owned by their father George Weisz. He was an antique dealer, and he spent most of his time traveling to buy antiques. While the father was away, the narrator lived in the house with Yoav and Leah. 

The father is haunted by memories of his own childhood home before the Nazis took away his parents and stole its lavish furnishings. George Weisz is obsessed with finding all of the furniture again. George Weisz discovers that Nadia has the desk in New York, and He sent Leah there to reclaim it.

During this segment, we discover that Leah and Yoav’s mother had died when Leah was seven and Yoav was eight. For years, their father essentially locked them in their home and removed them from society. During this time, the family moved a lot, and the family’s lifestyle becomes questionable.

We discover in this section that George Weisz uses a walking stick that has a silver ram at the top. 

At the beginning of Part Two the brothers Uri and Dov are living in Israel. Cov has become increasingly sullen, and people like Uri. Do announces that he is moving to England. In this segment, Dov and Uri’s father is the narrator, and he expresses his grief about how Do had become more and more disenchanted with and withdrawn from life. The father comments that Dov had even given up on his decision to beDov and Uri’s father is a judge, and from the time that we first met Nadia, she seems to be telling her story to a judge.

In the second segment of Part Two, “All Rise,” Nadia has gone to Jerusalem. It seems that she has a need to reconnect with the desk, and Leah had left her address as living at Ha’Oren Street in Israel.

In Israel, Nadia meets a young man named Adam, who she thinks looks very much like Daniel Varsky. She also thought that Leah had looked like Varsky. Adam becomes Nadia’s driver and drives her to the address at Ha’Oren Street. The man there says that he doesn’t know anything about the desk, and that no one named Leah is at his house. That man is Leah’s father George Weisz. He walks with Weisz’s walking stick.

Adam robs Nadia, and Nadia, in turn, takes Adam’s roommate’s car and begins driving. En route, she runs over the judge, who is now in the hospital. Nadia is at his bedside telling him this story.

In the next segment of Part Two, also titled “Swimming Holes,” Lotte dies and her husband of fifty years begins consulting a man name Gottlieb about the creation of his will. The lover tells Gottlieb about Lotte’s desk:

“To call it a desk is to say too little. The word conjures some homely, unassuming article of the work or domesticity, a selfless and practical object that is always poised to offer up its back for its owner to make use of, and which, when not in use, occupies its allotted space with humility. Well, I told Gottlieb, you can cancel that image immediately. This desk was something else entirely: an enormous, foreboding thing that bore down on the occupants of the room in inhabited, pretending to be inanimate but, like a Venus flytrap, ready to pounce on them and digest them via one of its many little terrible drawers. Perhaps you think I’m making a caricature of it. I don’t blame you. You’d have to have seen the desk with your own eyes to understand that what I’m telling you is perfectly [p. 370] accurate. It took up almost half of her rented room. The first time she allowed me to stay the night with her in that tiny pathetic bed that cowered in the shadow of the desk, I woke up in a cold sweat. It loomed above us, a dark and shapeless form.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 370-71.

Lotte’s husband wants Gottlieb to find Lotte’s son, and Gottlieb did find the names and address of the people who had adopted the child. Lotte’s husband, who is finally named Arthur Bender, goes to Liverpool to try to meet the son, but when he speak’s to the adoptive mother, the mother tells Bender that her son had died twenty-seven years earlier.

In the end, George Weisz realizes that his daughter Lotte had double-crossed him and that instead of delivering the desk to her father in Israel, she had hid it from him by  locking it in a New York City Storage Unit. George Weisz tracks down the address where the desk is stored, he pays $1,000 to spend only one hour with the desk:

“I opened the door. The room was cold, and had no window. For an instant I almost believed I would find my father stooped over the desk, his pen moving across the page. But the tremendous desk stood alone, mute and uncomprehending. Three or four drawers hung open, all of them empty. But the one I locked as a child, sixty-six years later was locked still. I reached out and touched the surface of the desk. There were a few scratches, but otherwise those who had sat at it had left no mark. ” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 431.

©Jacki Kellum September 28, 2016

Jacki Kellum Read This Book September 28, 2016

Ernest Hemingway Memoir – A Moveable Feast – Writing Description & Sense of Place – Background for The Paris Wife

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

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Although Hemingway wrote the Moveable Feast later–two or three wives later–it is about the years between 1921 and 1925, when he was married to his first wife Hadley and when the couple lived in Paris.

“A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures the love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

“Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

“A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.” Amazon

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
WINNER—BEST HISTORICAL FICTION—GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PeopleChicago Tribune • NPR • The Philadelphia Inquirer • Kirkus Reviews • The Toronto Sun • BookPage

Moveable Feast stands alone as a good read–Hemingway’s Memoir, and it is an excellent resource for fully appreciating The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. 

Is Moveable Feast Fact or Fiction?

“If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.” – Ernest Hemingway – Preface to Moveable Feast.

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The opening lines of Moveable Feast [Hemingway’s Memoir about the years 1921 – 1926 in Paris]:

“Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness.
. . .
“The Café des Amateurs was the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard, that wonderful narrow crowded market street which led into the Place Contrescarpe. The squat toilets of the old apartment houses…emptied into cesspools which were emptied by pumping into horse-drawn tank wagons at night. In the summer time, with all windows [p. 3] open, we would hear the pumping and the odor was very strong.
. . .No one emptied the Café des Amateurs though, and its yellowed poster stating the terms and penalties of the law against public drunkenness was as flyblown and disregarded as its clients were constant and ill-smelling.

“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationery and the newspaper shops, the mid-wife–second class–and the hotel…where I had a room on the top floor where I worked.

“It was either six or eight flights up to the top floor and it was very cold and I knew how much it would cost for a bundle of small twigs, three wire-wrapped packets of short, half-pencil length  pieces of split pine to catch fire from the twigs, and then the bundle of half-dried lengths of hard wood that I must but to make a fire that would warm the room. ” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 3-4.

“I was writing about up in Michigan, and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story.
. . .
“But the boys [in the story he was writing] were drinking and this made me thirsty and I ordered a rum St. James. This tasted wonderful on the cold day and I kept on writing, feeling very well and feeling the good Martinique rum warm me all through my body and my spirit.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 5.
. . .
“The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 6.
. . .

“Now that the bad weather had come, we could leave Paris for a while for a place where this rain would be snow coming down through the pines and covering the road and the high hillsides and at an altitude where we would hear it creak was we walked home at night. Below Le Avants there was a chalet where the pension was wonderful and where we would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright. That was where we would go. Traveling third class on the train was not expensive.
. . .
“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.
. . .
“Anyway we would go if my wife wanted to….

“She had a gently modeled face and her eyes and her smile lighted up  at decisions as though they were rich presents.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 7.

“When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. The city had accommodated itself to winter, there was good wood for sale at the wood and coal place across our street….Our town apartment was warm and cheerful. …on the streets the winter light was beautiful. Now you were accustomed to see the bare trees against the sky and you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths through the Luxembourg gardens in the clear sharp wind. The trees were sculpture without their leaves when you were reconciled to them….
“…I did not notice…the climb up to the top floor of the hotel where I worked, in a room that looked across all the roofs and the chimneys of the high hill of the quarter, was a pleasure. The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chestnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds in the fire when I ate them and roasted chestnuts when I was hungry, I was always hungry…[p. 11].
. . .
I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going…I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and yo will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write teh truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on for there. It was easy then….”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 11-12.

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Ernest Hemingway Writes about Gertrude Stein in 1920’s Paris:

“My wife and I had called on Miss Stein, and she and the friend who lived with her had been very cordial and friendly and we had loved the big studio with the great paintings. It was like one of the best rooms in the finest museum except [p. 13] there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and tea and natural distilled liqueurs made from purple plums, yellow plums or wild raspberries. These were fragrant, colorless alcohols served from cut-glass carafes in small glasses…they all tasted like the fruits they came from, converted into a controlled fire on your tongue that warmed you and loosened it.

“Miss Stein was very big but not tall and was heavily built like a peasant woman. She had beautiful eyes and a strong German-Jewish face that also could have been Friulano and she reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive, immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she had probably worn it in college. She talked all the time and at first it was about people and places.

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“Her companion [Alice B. Toklas] had a very pleasant voice, was small, very dark, with her hair cut like Joan of Arc in the Boutet de Monvel illustrations and had a very hooked nose.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 13-14.

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Gertrude Stein on The Lost Generation

” ‘All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.’
. . .

“”You have no respect for anything. you drink yourselves to death…’ ” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 29.

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Hemingway On Walking and about the River Seine
About Autumn, Winter, and Spring

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something they understood.” [p. 43]
. . .

“With the fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with their smoke-stacks that folded back to pass under the bridges, pulling a tow of barges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be [p. 44] lonely along the river. With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.”

“In those days, thought, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 43-45.

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Painting by Corot

Hemingway – & the Goatherd

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

“In the spring mornings I would work early while my wife still slept. The windows were open wide and the cobbles of the street were drying after the rain. The sun was drying the wet faces of the houses that faced the window. The shops were still shuttered. The goatherd came up the street blowing his pipes and a woman who lived on the floor above us came out onto the sidewalk with a big pot. The goatherd chose one of the the heavy-bagged, black milk-goats and milked her into the pot while his dog pushed the others onto the sidewalk. The goats looked around, turning their necks like sight-seers. The goatherd took the money from the woman and thanked her and went on up the street piping and the dog herded the goats on ahead, their horns bobbing. I went back to writing and the woman came up the stairs with the goat milk. She wore her felt-soled cleaning shoes and I only heard her breathing as she stopped on the stairs outside our door and then the shutting of her door. She was the only customer for goat milk in our building.”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 49.

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were al you needed. For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket. The fur had been worn off the rabbit’s foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 91.

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Hemingway on Ezra and Dorothy Pound

“Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people. The studio where he lived with his wife Dorothy on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs was a poor as Gertrude Stein’s studio was rich. It had very good light and was heated by a  stove and it had paintings by Japanese artists Ezra knew.

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. . .

“Dorothy’s paintings I liked very much and I though Dorothy was very beautiful and built wonderfully. ”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 91.
. . .
“Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known and the most disinterested. He helped poets, painters, sculptors and prose writers that he believed in and he would help anyone whether he believed in them or not…. He worried about everyone and in the time when I first knew him he was the most worried about T.S. Eliot who, Ezra told me, had to work in a bank in London and so had insufficient time and bad hours to function as a poet.

Ezra Pound, Bel Esprit, and T. S. Eliot

“Ezra founded something called Bel Esprit with Miss Natalie Barney who was a rich American woman and a patroness of the arts.  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 110.
. . .
“The idea of Bel Esprit was that we would all contribute a part of whatever we earned to provide a fund to get Mr. Eliot out of the bank.
. . .
“I cannot remember how Bel Esprit finally cracked up but I think it had something to do with the publication of The Waste Land….”
Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 112.

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F.Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda

Hemingway on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda

“Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicated longplipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. [p. 149]
. . .
“He was lightly built and did not look in awfully good shape, his face being faintly puffy. His Brooks Brothers clothes fitted him well and he wor a white shirt with a buttoned-down collar and a guards tie.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 149-50.

“Scott Fitzgeral invited us to have lunchwith his wife elda and his little daughter at the flat they had rented at 14 rue Tilsitt. I cannot remember much about the flat except that it was gloomy and airless and that there was nothing in it that seemed to belong to them except Scott’s fist book bound in light blue leather with the titles in gold. Scott also showed us a large ledger with all of the storied he had received for them and also the amounts received for any motion picture sales, and the sales and royalties of his books.
. . .
“Zelda had a very bad hangover.
. . .
“On this day Zelda did not look her bet. Her beautiful dark blonde hair had been ruined temporarily by a bad permanent [p. 179] she had gotten in Lyon…, and her eyes were tired and her face was tootaut and drawn.

“She was formally pleasant to Hdley and me but a big part of her seemd not to be present but to still be on the party she had come home from that morning.
. . .

Image result for f. scott fitzgerald's daughterF. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, and Their Daughter Frances or Scottie

“Scott was being the perfect host and we ate a very bad lunch that the wine cheered a little but not much. The little girl was blonde, chubby-faced, well built, and very healthy looking and spoke English with a strong Cockney accent. Scott explained that she had an English nanny because he wanted her to speak like Lady Diana Manners when she grew up.

“Zelda had hawk’s eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night’s part and return with her eyes blank as a ca’s and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone.
. . .
“Zelda was jealous of Scott’s work…. [p. 180]

“He would start to work and as soon as he was working well Zelda would begin complaining about how bored she was and get him off on another drunken party. They would quarrel and then make up and he would sweat out the alcohol on long walks with me…Then it would start all over again.” [p. 181]
. . .
“All that late spring and early summer Scott fought to work but he could only work in snatches.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 180-83.

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Hemingway is Seated Between His First Wife Hadley and His Second Wife Pauline

Hemingway On Adultery

“Before these rich had come we had already been infiltrated by another rich using the oldest trick there is> It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and relentingly set out to marry the husband. [p. 209]
. . .
“The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both.
“Then, instead of the two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is stimulating and it goes on that way for a while. All thins truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and every day is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war.
. . .

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Hemingway and Mr. Bumby [Jack]

“When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her. She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy.
. . .
“I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic [p. 210] time while we were alone.
. . .
“That was the end of the first part of Paris. Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed.
. . .
“But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 209-211.

 

A Moveable Feast Is Quoted Repeatedly in the Following Documentary, Which is Excellent:

 

 

Descriptive Writing – Sense of Place – Setting of the Upstate Area of New York in the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

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“As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal fact….But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which he might have imagined….

“Otsego….lies among those low spurs of the Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among its highest lands….

“Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their alliances, and which refers the name to this practice.” Pioneers – Introduction

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[Cooper is describing the area of Council Rock, which is the area where he grew up. James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans and several other books that were set in the area around his home in upstate New York. In one of the books, he wrote about how the Native Americans would canoe to a big boulder to meet. This big boulder is Council Rock, which is an actual rock that is very near Cooper’s childhood home. The description of the rock in Cooper’s writing of historical fiction is beautiful and when we know that Cooper had first-hand experiences with the rock, we have little doubt that in writing what is supposedly fiction, Cooper was describing from his own memories.]

“Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to speak with greater deference to geographical definitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting where the sides are jutted with rocks that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated, with a stream uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at those points of the streams which are favorable for manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. …Only forty years have passed since this territory was a wilderness.” Pioneers – Chapter 1 – Opening Lines

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“There was glittering in the atmosphere, as if it was filled with innumerable shining particles; and the noble bay horses that drew the sleigh were covered, in many parts with a coat of hoar-frost. The vapor from their nostrils was seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the view, as well as every arrangement of the travellers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains. The harness, which was of a deep, dull black, differing from the glossy varnishing of the present day, was ornamented with enormous plates and buckles of brass, that shone like gold in those transient beams of the sun which found their way obliquely through the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with nails and fitted with cloth that served as blankets to the shoulders of the cattle, supported four high, square-topped turrets, through which the stout reins led from the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver, who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of age. His face, which nature had colored with a glistening black, was now mottled with the cold, and his large shining eyes filled with tears; a tribute to its power that the keen frosts of those regions always extracted from one of his African origin. Still, there was a smiling expression of good-humor in his happy countenance, that was created by the thoughts of home and a Christmas fireside, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned conveyances, which would admit a whole family within its bosom, but which now contained only two passengers besides the driver. The color of its outside was a modest green, and that of its inside a fiery red, The latter was intended to convey the idea of heat in that cold climate. Large buffalo-skins trimmed around the edges with red cloth cut into festoons, covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread over its bottom and drawn up around the feet of the travellers—one of whom was a man of middle age and the other a female just entering upon womanhood. The former was of a large stature; but the precautions he had taken to guard against the cold left but little of his person exposed to view. A great-coat, that was abundantly ornamented by a profusion of furs, enveloped the whole of his figure excepting the head, which was covered with a cap of mar ten-skins lined with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall, if necessary, and were now drawn close over the ears and fastened beneath his chin with a black rib bon. The top of the cap was surmounted with the tail of the animal whose skin had furnished the rest of the materials, which fell back, not ungracefully, a few inches be hind the head. From beneath this mask were to be seen part of a fine, manly face, and particularly a pair of expressive large blue eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert humor, and great benevolence. The form of his companion was literally hid beneath the garments she wore. There were furs and silks peeping from under a large camlet cloak with a thick flannel lining, that by its cut and size was evidently intended for a masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk, that was quilted with down, concealed the whole of her head, except at a small opening in front for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a pair of animated jet-black eyes.

“The mountain on which they were journeying was covered with pines that rose without a branch some seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently doubled that height by the addition of the tops. Through the innumerable vistas that opened beneath the lofty trees, the eye could penetrate until it was met by a distant inequality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite side of the valley to which they were hastening. The dark trunks of the trees rose from the pure white of the snow in regularly formed shafts, until, at a great height, their branches shot forth horizontal limbs, that were covered with the meagre foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancholy contrast to the torpor of nature below. To the travellers there seemed to be no wind; but these pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs, sending forth a dull, plaintive sound that was quite in consonance with the rest of the melancholy scene.” Pioneers – Chapter 1

[This post is a work in progress. I am reading all of the books in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I’ll be adding to these observations]

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird – Humorous but Penetratingly Honest Advise for Writers

Before the last year, I have avoided writing, and because of that, I have avoided reading many of the books that everyone was telling me that I should read–books that would encourage me to write. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is one of those books. Anne Lamott has a sharp wit, and her book Bird by Bird is an enjoyable read. Her assessment of the challenges and the rewards of writing is penetratingly honest. In the introduction to Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott allows us to see her as a survivor of her own childhood gawkiness, and we begin to understand that writing became Lamott’s tool for survival. No different than the rest of us, however, she had to learn to deal with the reality that writing can be an arduous task.

“… we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment; that at some point we had to actually sit down and write.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

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“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

Lamott continues by describing her gawkiness:

“I went to the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny…..first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Amazon.com Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

“Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.”
 From Publishers Weekly Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
“Lamott’s ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she’s even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing’s rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former “Leona Helmsley of jealousy,” she’s come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer’s block by living “as if I am dying.” She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ‘to have written your version is an honorable thing’ “
“But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual writing–turns out to be the best part. …The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxvi.
 Lamott describes the sensation that she had, as a child, when she first saw her poem in print:
“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore ou exist. Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal–a spiny blenny, for instance–from inside your cave.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Other Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

Lamott shares what she tells her students about what they might expect from the act of writing:

“I tell them they’ll want to be really good right off, and they may not be, but they might be good someday if they just keep the faith and keep practicing. And they may even go from wanting to have written something to just wanting to be writing, wanting to be working on something…because writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together. When they are working on their books or stories, their heads will spin with ideas and invention. They’ll see the world through new eyes. Everything they see and hear and learn will become grist for the mill….They will have days at the desk of frantic boredom, of angry hopelessness, of wanting to quit forever, and there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting [p. xxix] published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

“But I also tell them that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other times. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that tthey are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. ” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxxi.

Chapter One: Getting Started

“…writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 3.

“Start with your childhood….Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 4.

“Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?…

“Scratch around for details…those terrible petaled swim caps, the mean’s awful trunks….Write about the somen’s curlers with the bristles inside….Brownie uniforms….Christmas when you were ten, and how it made you feel inside.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 5.

“Remember that  you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, ‘We told you not to tell.’ But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”

“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”

“You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 6-7.

“And so if one of your hear’s deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.

“And what are those reasons again? my students ask.

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life–wonderful, lyrical language….And quality of attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 14-15.

 Chapter Two: Short Assignments

“Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history….But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk….And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I;m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, it to stop. First I try to breathe, because I’m either sitting there panting like a lap dog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. …and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

“It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. …

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 16-18.
“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise….We are just going to take this bird by bird.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 20.

Chapter Three: Shitty First Drafts

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 21-22.

Chapter Four: Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

“Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force….But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 28-29.

“They [our psychic muscles]cramp around our wounds–the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both–to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again,….Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. …They keep us moving and writing in tight , worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from    life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 29-30.
“Perfectionism…will only drive you mad. …
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 30-31.

Chapter Seven: Character

 “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad tings happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 45.

 Set Design

“You want to know its feel, its temperature, its colors….Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in your rooms, how much light we need–how many light bulbs, candles, skylights we have–and in how we keep things lit your can see how we try to comfort ourselves….
” ‘For instance, let’s start with the living room. Can you describe a really lovely living room in as much detail as possible?’ And then you can ask what smells your friend remembers, in the living room and kitchen, and what the light was like, and what various rooms sounded like or what their silences felt like. Or, by the same token, you can ask someone who grew up in poverty to give you an exact description of his or her house, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the couch in the backyard.
“Years ago, I was working on a novel that involved a woman who gardened, who in fact loved to garden….

“I love to see people in gardens, I love the meditation of sitting alone in gardens, I love all the metaphors that garden are.“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river. Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known. But they only work if they resonate in the heart of the writer. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 74-79.

Plot Treatment

“My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well. I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 85.

Looking Around

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on….Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese…Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein….

“The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 97-98.

“Obviously, it’s harder by far to look at yourself this same sense of compassionate detachment. Practice helps….Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 99.

Broccoli

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself…Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

“Sometimes intuition needs coaxing, because intuition is a little shy. But if you try to crowd it, intuition often wafts up from the soul or subconscious, and then becomes a tiny fitful little flame. It will be blown out by too much compulsion and manic attention, but will burn quietly when watched with gentle concentration.

“So try to calm down, get quiet, breathe, and listen. Squint at the screen in your head, and if you look, you will see what you are searching for….If you stop trying to control your mind so much, you’ll have intuitive hunches about what this or that character is all about. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 110-113.

Jealousy

“…if you want to know how God feels about money, look at whom she gives it to.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 128.

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material. Sometimes you’ll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be on one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene…or you’ll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn’t just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight ou of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts , and so clear they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 136.

Writing Groups

“When you’re feeling low, you don’t want anyone even to joke that you may be in some kind of astrological strike zone where you’ll be for the next seven years. On a bad day you also don’t need a lot of advice. You just need a little empathy and affirmation. You need to feel once again that other people have confidence in you. The members of your writing group can often  offer just that.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 157.

“There are four people…who have now been meeting as a group for four years. …

“They’ve  gone from being four tense, slightly conceited, lonely people who wanted to write to one of those weird little families we fashion out of whoever’s around us. They’re very tender with one another. They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”   Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 158-59.

Finding Your Voice

“…all of the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with–including myself–have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness….It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home. …

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 200-01.

Giving

“…it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard. Others=wise I am a wired little rodent squirreling things away, hoarding and worrying about supply. …

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 202-03.

The Last Class

“Write about your childhoods….Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understanding your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and insight and compassion.

“Becoming a writer i about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 225-26.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 231.

“The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead….But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes…

“In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, ‘This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.’ And the niche may be small and dark, but at least you will finally know what you are doing….you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along–your wounds. This is very painful. It stops a lot of people early on who didn’t get into this for the pain. They got into it for the money and the fame. So they either quit, or they resort to a type of writing that is sort of like candy making.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 234-35.

” ‘So why does our writing matter, again?’ they ask.

“Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the herart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 237.

Allow Yourself the Time to Walk and to Look and to Simply Jot Some Notes Along the Way

This week, I have begun to realize that I am not allowing myself, my mind,  and my spirit enough time to stop and smell the rose petals that are scattered around my life. William Wordsworth said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of emotions, and I am sure that this was true for him. But it is important to understand that William Wordsworth was an avid walker. and that he made sure that he filled his life with the types of moments that evoke an ever-renewing spontaneous overflow of emotion. I realize that I have not been doing enough of that.

In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts  were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from  a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed himself to have the fodder needed to evoke his overflow of emotions and to refill his spirit.

Anaïs Nin also talked about the overflow that Wordsworth had mentioned:

 “You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

For the past year, I have written almost every day, but I have  done so from  a comfortable spot in my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Almost every day, I have responded to the WordPress Daily Prompts, and until recently, I have been able to draw upon memories for my writing. I have discovered, however, that I am beginning to repeat myself. Clearly, my emotional well is beginning to run dry, and I recognize that I need to do something more to provide myself with fresh writing material. Very simply, I need to recharge.

Yesterday, I began to read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and in it, I saw that Dorothy’s journals are nothing more than simple records of what she saw and experienced directly in her life.

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

There is something alive and fresh about the way that Dorothy Wordsworth captured what she actually saw on October 10, 1800. What she has written is not fancy or elegant or sophisticated, and this is very important: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry is not long and convoluted. It is simply a record of what Dorothy saw that day.

When I blog, I clearly blog with the reader in mind. I try to write in complete sentences, and I strive to write so that other people can make sense of what I have written. I also strive to write an article that I believe is respectably long. In other words, when I blog, I feel some obligation to write full and detailed blog posts. After reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, however, I realize that I also need to be writing some simpler and more immediate notes about what is actually occurring around me and what I actually see day-to-day.

Dorothy Wordsworth was also a walker. On an almost daily basis, Dorothy would walk in some natural setting and she would write simple records of what she saw. Although she was not a poet per se, she closely observed the weather and the flora and fauna around the places where she walked. Afterward, in just a few words, she strove to capture her immediate impressions about what she had seen. Dorothy Wordsworth did not realize that her journals would be made public, and when she took notes on her daily life, she did not bother with grammatical correctness or with trying to write full sentences. She simply blurted a word or a phrase that signified an actual moment in her day. The following is an example of one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s longer entries in her journal:

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow…here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us–it called out and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

As I said, the above is one of Dorothy’s longer and more refined entries, and even the above journal entry in not long, as compared to what I have deemed to be a respectably long blog post. I teach a writing class, and the excuse that i most often hear for the student’s not writing is that the student did not feel that he had enough time to write. What they are actually saying is that they did not have enough time to sit down and complete an article that is 400 -1200 words long. Everyone has time to journal the way that Dorothy Wordsworth journaled. On most days, she simply jotted a few words like in the following:

“A very fine day with showers–dried the linen & starched. Drank tea at Mr. Simpsons. Brought down Batchelors Buttons (Rock Ranunculus) & other plants–went part of the way back. A showery, mild evening–all the peas up.” May 22, 1800

Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day, and her writing is usually noted in sentence fragments. Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record of the hum-drum proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.

“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and  eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800

“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Montagu enclosing a three-pound note. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800

On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead. He was hungry, and she fed him. In a way that is typical of Dorothy’s writing the final line transforms the entry entirely:

“When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’.  He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800

I call attention to the fact that in most of that day’s entry, Dorothy is talking  feeding the poor, but in the final sentence, she attaches a note about a flower that she had seen that day.

I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a natural twist in the last sentence:

“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal August 22, 1800

I can see that Dorothy’s quick sketches of nature have an honesty and a lyricism that is often lost when a more sophisticated record is made. And more importantly, because Dorothy’s daily notes were very short, she did not allow herself the excuse of lack of time to prevent her from journaling. After having read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal, I have created a new writing agenda to add to my other, more finished writing:

  • I need to get back into nature and to allow myself to simply jot down a few words here and there about what I have seen and heard.
  • I need to allow nature to recharge my writer’s well.
  • I need to embrace the fact that not every writing is obligated to be a chapter in the next break-out novel. I need to allow some of my writing to be very short and unfinished–just a word here and there.
  • I need to grant myself the time and the experiences to nourish my soul.

©Jacki Kellum September 11, 2016

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