On January 20 of this year, I wrote in my diary,
I feel myself moving into an information consumption phase. Whenever I move into this consumption phase after a satisfying productive phase, it is an unnerving transition. “But I should be writing, not reading about writing,” I say to myself. “If I want to write, I need to write.”
Then I whined for a few paragraphs about all the reading I was doing, and all of the writing I wasn’t doing, til I finally concluded,
I am too scattered to finish this. I will make a to-do list for writing, as well as set some goals for 2013. I need to remember that it’s okay to go through the consumption phase, that its part of my natural cycle. At some point, I will tire of consuming, I will become restless with my new knowledge, with all the thoughts bouncing around in my head, with all the ideas I’m formulating, and then I will begin to write again.
I am in this phase again right now. I am scattered. Consumptive. Too fried to write. And worst of all, I feel unproductive because I’m reading more than I’m writing. But then, I continued down the page of my diary to see the goals I had laid out. I smiled when I saw, very last on the list,
7) Allow myself to consume information about writing.
And so, permission being granted by myself to myself to read and not write, I have buried my mind these past few days in other writers’ words. When the kids are occupied, and my chores are done, I lie on the couch, put up my feet, and read. Some of these titles are not about writing, per se, but the writing and subject matter have been lauded in ways and for reasons that made me pick them up, and I am encouraged as a writer because of them.
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker: I read an interview with Walker’s agent Eric Simonoff in the July/August 2013 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and in the article he walked the reader through an agent/author experience, from receiving a query to publishing a best selling novel. The author he used as an example was Karen Thompson Walker. Simonoff explained that she sent him the first forty pages of her novel-in-progress, and they completely blew him away. “Those pages exist in her first novel, The Age of Miracles, largely untouched from when they crossed my desk,” said Simonoff. “They were absolutely arresting.” After that endorsement, I picked up the book and he was right – Walker hooked me immediately. I read the book in two days. And I have to say I was one of the readers who, like Simonoff, was “greeted with… jaw-dropping appreciation for what a marvelous writer she is, and what an amazing novel she’d created.” I love a book that can suck me in, especially with exquisite writing, and The Age of Miracles did that.
My Name is Mina, by David Almond: I read about this book on a writing blog – Live to Write, Write to Live, in a lovely post, When a book unlocks your writer’s heart – and picked it up after reading it described as “a slow and quiet story that hardly seems to be a story at all.” That is a perfectly apt description of this book, and I wanted to read it because that is the type of writing that I do. To see a book not only published, but praised for this quietness, when this lack of story is what I always feel is my greatest weakness as a writer, was great encouragement to me.
I scowled at My Name is Mina during the first 50 pages or so, thinking it was simply a writer’s indulgence for putting words on a page. For meandering and writing just for the sake of writing. But the more I got into it – there’s no plot, really, just a girl, her pencil, her tree, and her “strangeness” – the more I understood and was encouraged by what Almond has done here. He made me think, and love, and empathize. He made me see the beauty in the shape of a poem about skylarks singing as they rise and as they fall. He made me slow down, and consider the world around me. He did what I want to do – he wrote a story that wasn’t a story, but is a love for language, and for observation, and for stopping to think extraordinary thoughts.
Suddenly Jamie, the writer who suggested My Name is Mina, also suggested the third book I read this week. The book whose title was irresistible to me, and that I put on hold at the library before even reading what it was about: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. What a title! With those simple words, Bailey evokes all the senses – the sound of a snail munching, the sandpaper feel of its rasp, the spiral of its shell, the moist smell of forest floor, the earthy taste of leaves, and soil, and mushrooms. And best of all, to hear a snail eating, you must be in a very quiet place. Especially in your mind. Sprinkled with snail haiku throughout the book (which as a lover of haiku, was a huge bonus for me), The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a beautiful meditation on time, pace, solitude, and the ways of nature. Bedridden by illness, Bailey found companionship with a woodland snail a friend brought her from the forest. The more she observed the snail through her immobile days and sleepless nights, the more captivated she became by the snail’s adaptation to its circumstances, both in the terrarium by her bedside, and as a species in the world. This is a quiet, thoughtful, organic book that soothed me both as a writer and as a nature lover.
As we all know, information consumption would not be complete without the internet, so here are a few of my favorite essays and blog posts from the week:
Saturday Edition – What We’re Writing and Reading by Suddenly Jamie on Live to Write, Write to Live: This is the blog post that got me going on My Name is Mina and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Apparently I am a fan of the type of reading Jamie does.
It’s Not Personal by Sarah Menkedick on Vela : In this essay, Menkedick explores the “I” in men’s versus women’s writing, that a man’s “I” is serious or universal while a woman’s “I” is considered frivolous or specific to women’s issues. This is subject I am very interested in, especially as a woman writer who uses “I” a lot, and I have seen a lot of writing about it recently. As Menkedick writes in this essay, “the ‘I’ in a woman’s writing has the alchemical effect of converting it into traditional women’s work–personal essay, memoir–whereas the ‘I’ in a man’s work is a rhetorical device, a detached or quirky or ‘gutsy’ narrative decision. It’s a wily craft choice for men, a solipsistic indulgence for women.”
Yes, you have to choose. But can’t you choose everything? by Julie Schwietert Collazo on Cuaderno Inedito: Collazo, a professional writer who travels extensively for her work, and who also has a husband, a child, and a baby on the way, takes issue with journalist Michael Hasting’s advice to new writers, that “Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life–family, friends, social life, whatever.”
‘What Do You Do?’: A Stay-at-Home-Mother’s Most Dreaded Question by Lisa Endlich Heffernan on The Atlantic: Boy, I can relate to this. Heffernan articulates many of the feelings I have as a SAHM, for as she says, “The question asks, ‘What does someone pay you to do?'” While I have made peace with many of my original discomforts of being an intelligent, educated woman who chose to stay home with our kids – the darting eyes of minglers at a party who start looking for someone more interesting to talk to when they find out I’m a stay-at-home-mom, the “Is that all you do?” reaction from others – I can still relate to much of what Heffernan writes about here. And honestly, if I hadn’t rediscovered writing, I might not have made my peace at all.
Ten Things I Didn’t Fully Appreciate Before Children by Kristina Cerise on Brain, Child: I needed some laughs this week, and I appreciated this post for a lift. Though our children have outgrown many of these, I still remember how I’d drive across town for a coffee shop with a drive-thru, and to this day I depend on NPR for “adult conversation.” For those of you with infants and toddlers, I think you’ll like this list.
That’s it for now. Have you read anything good this week? I’m still in a consumption phase – my fingers aren’t itching for the keys quite yet – so I’d love to keep reading.