Monday, May 28, 2007

Each Time You Read a Book, You Are a New Person

Each time you read a book, you are a different person. The cells in your body have replaced themselves, so that your skin has a sheen and newness unlike your former self. Each word written on the page has a different shape. It will affect your soul in an entirely new way, because just as you have transformed, this book you are choosing to re-read is a new narrative in the context of this day – now.

I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood. Ever since transferring to a Canadian University in my sophomore year of college and studying Canadian authors for the first time, I have been an avid reader of Atwood’s fiction. I remember studying a multitude of American and British writers in high school, but there was a distinct lack of Canadian representation in the curriculum. This is something I would like to see change. Perhaps it has since 1989.

I have read every novel Ms. Atwood has written, thus far, except Oryx and Crake. (For some reason I just had a hard time submersing myself in that one – perhaps it was the apocalyptic vision of the future offered in the narrative.) One of my favorite novels is Lady Oracle. I used to adhere to a personal tradition of re-reading this novel every year, usually in September. I loved the journey this novel took me on, and it was different every time. The protagonist is a writer who takes a trip to Italy by herself after faking her own death. She rents an apartment in order to finish her novel with no distractions. She tells no one of her travel plans (of course). She vanishes from her own life in order to go on a journey from within for the first time, while she writes this book. As a result, she launches herself on a quest of self-discovery.

By re-reading one of Margaret Atwood’s books every year for five years, I was embarking on a journey of the soul – a writer’s soul. I was searching for myself right along with the main character and was never disappointed. Getting to know one’s self is a life-long journey, and so too is the journey to becoming a good reader, or a skilled writer. Never stop searching for truths – whether they are universal or personal.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

You Have to Live First, if You Want to Write

When you are feeling blocked, empty, or frustrated with your writing ... in other words things just aren't flowing, you need to do what writer Anne Lamott refers to as "filling up". In Lamott's very helpful, enlightening and just plain funny book on writing called Bird by Bird, she discusses in one of her chapters the need for writers to fill up their cup with life experiences.

By this I don't mean that you should necessarily take up sky diving, because you think your life is boring. Whatever you do, don't walk down Main Street in your town naked, just because you need something juicy or daring to write about. Just live as if this present moment is a gift. Live as if the corny hand towels with that quote, "live every day as if it were your last," were true. You will find that your mind will be much more attentive to every detail in your life - every buttercup that you see on your lawn.

Yesterday I saw a very rare and captivating bird, the Baltimore Oriole. I was intoxicated by the orange, red and yellow colors that lit up this bird's feathered wings like a majestic flag. It was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen - apart from my own children - and it was only two feet away from me outside my friend's kitchen window. When it flew off, I initially felt bereft. "Take me with you," I thought. "Don't go. Let me paint a picture of you in my mind." So that is what I am doing here in this blog entry. I am capturing the splendor and beauty of that moment when I let everything else in my life stand still, including the blank page of my journal, so that I could live a shared moment with this Baltimore Oriole.

You have to live before you can write. When you do write for great lengths of time, give yourself permission and time to live in the present. Take a breather. Your writing will flow again like never before.

MAy 20, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In Praise of Adrienne Rich

If you are a creative woman in need of space and time to produce your works, whether they be novels, songs, sculptures, photography, jewelry, murals, poetry, paintings, or even a rose out of a radish ... you MUST read Adrienne Rich's perfectly sized volume of essays and conversations, Arts of the Possible.

I will discuss several essays from this collection on this blog to give each the attention it deserves. For today's entry, here are a few thoughts on Rich's landmark essay, "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Revision". As a mother and a writer, I know all too well the conflict between meeting the needs of the little people in the house on an every 5 minute basis, and trying helplessly to meet one's own basic needs, like eating a meal or taking a shower. How is a writer supposed to be able to fulfill the larger need of finding time to write, when having privacy in the restroom is a luxury? First I was a writer, then I became a mother, and realized that I had wasted valuable time by not racing towards my goals sooner. Why is it that motherhood creates a vacuum from which all time to create and be productive in one's individual pursuits is sucked away like a mighty wind? I realize there is no answer to that question. It is a fact that spare time dwindles when you become a parent. It is an honor to be given a precious life to nurture and care for, and my heart expands every day when I gaze upon my beautiful boys. I still need to write though. It is a fact. If I want to write books, I need to sit down and write - preferably without interruption. I have a sinking feeling that this is not going to happen until both boys are in college.

In Adrienne Rich's essay, "When We Dead Awaken," she breathes life into this notion that women deserve time and space to create. She even goes so far as to plainly state that without time to focus and delve into a subject or scene, the flow of writing becomes stilted and stifled:

"And a certain freedom of mind is needed - freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away."

Amen, Adrienne Rich. You know what my writer's heart needs to hear.

More to follow. This is enough bark to chew on for now.

May 13, 2007
Mother's Day