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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Other than when I failed that nasty don’t-read-for-a-week assignment last month from The Artist’s Way—suffering through two days before contemplating reaching for a razor and exorcising the entire chapter—it's rare to find me without reading material.

Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way to help blocked artists release their creativity. The idea behind this particular lesson, to jog those who use reading as an excuse not to “do,” to step out and experience real life, makes sense. Though, I can disappear into a good story as well as the next person, perhaps, when it comes down to it, I’m not stuck. Maybe that's why not reading didn’t work for me, well, unless you want to count that during that mid-week eternity, I managed to attack the over-flowing clutter that was our bathroom drawer and clean it up.

Aside from the reward of finding my hairbrush each morning, I look back on those two book-less, magazine-less, newspaper-less, even blog-less—although I cheated there—days, and picture myself like an unhooked fish, flopping around on a splintered dock—then pausing to pant exhausted, while staring cloudy-eyed at a distant river of words.

After the break though, after those 48 hours where I crabbed and snapped and the newspaper on the counter across the room baited me like a devil’s temptation, I realized, more than I ever have, that words are my art. Taking them away from me was like asking me to sit in a desert all day with an empty canteen. I need them to survive.

When I read a good sentence, I take a deep breath and mutter: “How did she do that?” Then I review the line again and again, to figure it out. I walk around looking at the trees, the ground, the window, the angle of the light, and chew on how to describe them in my mind. The same way someone might travel to a museum and gaze at the brush strokes of Rembrandt or Cezanne, I try understand the technique behind the language, and then practice using it to record the nuance of the moment; the “plet, plet” of the raindrops as they over-flow the aluminum gutter and hit the wet porch rail.

And, always, always, I get the warm rush of pleasure, a blast of hot air on air-conditioned skin, when I encounter words like this:

“Peter kept as still as a cornered deer; Rebecca sensed that even though she wasn’t looking at him. For the moment, she was looking at the scenery. Oh, didn’t a river rest your eyes! She sank into a peaceful trance, watching how the water seemed to gather itself as it traveled toward a sharp bend. It swelled up in loose, silky tangles and then it smoothed and flowed on, transparent at the edges but nearly opaque at the center, as yellow-green and sunlit as a bottle in a window. She drifted with it, dreaming. It could have been a hundred years ago. The line of dark trees on the opposite shore would have looked the same; she’d have heard the same soft, curly lapping close by, the same rushing sound farther off.
Well. Enough of this. She tore her gaze away and turned again to Peter. ‘I’ve got you now!’ she told him gaily.
He took another step backward and disappeared."
Back When We Were Grown Ups
by Anne Tyler

To those who commented on yesterday's post, thank you. There is so much to learn and understand, but one thing I know for sure is that there is a supportive community out there. As I said to someone today, the journey is a roller-coaster; sometimes I sit at the bottom for a while. Your wise words helped me gear up for the climb. I am grateful for your kindness.


glnroz said...

did you throw away that "Balloonnie" sandwich? :) I think we all are critical of our own writing, but you need not be. Whatever yhou are doing to get it done is working.

jbchicoine said...

To be honest, and run the risk of sounding gushy, I enjoy your writing as much as I enjoyed the passage by Anne Tyler.

Anonymous said...

Bloggerdom is a wonderful world. I give and receive support all the time. Its easy to share what going on in your life as you see others doing the same. You should take a peak at my blog. LOL! Evidently I'll blog about anything.

Stephen Tremp

T. Anne said...

Nice passage from Anne. You're voice is a hook all it's own as well. Nice blog.

Elana Johnson said...

I also read things and marvel at their beauty. Words are your passion.

Helen said...

It's odd that we don't realize how much something means to us until we give it up. Then we realize how big of a part it plays in our lives. You're very brave. It's hard for me to imagine a day without reading.

Straight From Hel