In my quest to self educate, Bird by Bird—Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, still sits on my bedside table. It is a library copy, and I admit here in print that I have bent down at least five page corners where I found sentences or whole paragraphs I want to reread and remember. Another casualty of the 8:30-5:00 schedule is the lack of an endless supply of yellow sticky notes with which to mark significant pages; but I get some credit for not using a highlighter on them, right? By the way, the book is stunning; for me because I’m trying to write, but for everyone, because the author is funny, self deprecating, brutally honest, and she spells it all out in language that makes you want to holler, “Exactly!” (Sarah, if you are reading this--buy it.)
So anyway, I’m plowing along and marking these inspirational comments because they are real and they teach and they guide, and then I turn to page 193 and read a quote that stops me dead.
The author didn’t write it. She, like everyone who tries to write, once struggled (although she’ll tell you that it’s always a struggle), and before she was published, Lamott submitted a short story to “an important magazine editor.” Loving and kind soul that he must have been, he sent her back a note that said: “You have made the mistake of thinking that everything that has happened to you is interesting.”
Whoa. Big swallow. Middle Passages--sixty posts between February 5 and April 15, all about me. I am experiencing, I believe, a minor crisis of faith here, so please bear with me.
You know--I had no conscious plan on February 5th to start writing this blog. It came out of me as a result of the trauma from the previous day, and the first essay made me feel whole and slightly accomplished and in a strange way relieved; like discovering the last portion of a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle stuck under the couch with the dust bunnies during a good spring cleaning--and I’ve just kept on. I do look back at some of my posts and think, “Yuck,” or “Does anyone really care?” To my credit, sometimes I even think, “Wow, I wrote that?” In some regard though, it almost doesn’t matter, because I am so completely in love with the effort, the unexpected words that bubble up out of me day after day. There are mornings that I approach the computer with nothing less than trepidation, because I’m not sure there is anything left in me to write. But so far, something always spills out of my fingers and when I’m done, for the moment anyway, I think; “This is me on the page as best as I can get it, as honestly, and clearly as I know how to write.” I’m not writing what I think my three readers want to hear…I’m just writing, reporting if you will, the things that are apparently swirling down there in my Swiss cheese of a soul.
Of course, I hope in some regard that all this practice is helping to make me become better at a craft in which I want to improve but hear this. I’m simply grateful that I am doing it. In Bird by Bird, there is another page turned down that I had to scramble back to after reading that horrific response from the editor, and I’m storing it in my mental back pocket to remember along the way: “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part.”
In commenting about that note from the editor, Ann Lamott writes: “Now needless to say, I was mortified. But the note ended up only helping me because it didn’t stop me.” Her take, I suppose, on “That which doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger.” Therefore, while I hope that this blog is being received positively (and if it is you’ll be my new best friend if you write a brief comment to that affect), even harsh criticism is OK because there would be nothing to critique at all, if I wasn’t doing the writing.
So it does matter what you think about Middle Passages, and if you don't like it, I'm sorry; but taking a bent page out of Anne Lamott’s book, regardless of how you feel, I’m not stopping either.