The still, quiet voice


“I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times during the ten years I was writing The Incendiaries. I love that song and its powers; I can’t tell you its name, lest it stop helping me. By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing. Even now, months after I last edited The Incendiaries, to play the song I can’t name is to be pulled back toward my novel, into my made-up town of Noxhurst. The still, quiet voice. That’s what I used to listen for, back when I was deeply religious: the still, quiet voice of God. I’ve lost that kind of faith, but I do believe in fiction’s voice, and in spending the rest of my life, or so I hope, listening for it.”

— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries: A Novel in Poets & Writers, July 26, 2018


From a book Review of The Incendiaries by Ron Charles in The Washington Post on July 23, 2018: ‘The Incendiaries’ is the most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be. “…Kwon, who was raised Roman Catholic and has said that she lost her faith in her teens, seems to understand with extraordinary sympathy just what that loss entails. And as her debut novel catches fire and burns toward its feverish conclusion, she offers a strikingly clear articulation of the fanatic’s mind-set: It’s not an excess of belief that drives some believers to violence; it’s a maddening lack of belief, which requires that radical action be substituted for faith. In a nation still so haunted by the divine promise, on the cusp of ever-more contentious debates about abortion and other intrinsically spiritual issues, ‘The Incendiaries’ arrives at precisely the right moment.”

unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them

I’ve learned to write on trains and in hotels and waiting rooms. On the tray tables on planes. I take notes at lunch, under the table, or in the bathroom. I write in museum stairwells, in cafés, in the car on the shoulder of the motorway. I jot things down on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, on my other hand, on napkins, in the margins of books. Usually they’re short sentences, little images, but sometimes I copy out quotes from the papers. Sometimes a figure carves itself out of the crowd, and then I deviate from my itinerary to follow it for a moment, start on its story. It’s a good method; I excel at it. With the years, time has become my ally, as it does for every woman—I’ve become invisible, see-through. I am able to move around like a ghost, look over people’s shoulders, listen in on their arguments and watch them sleep with their heads on their backpacks or talking to themselves, unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (August 13, 2018)


Olga Tokarczuk, 56, is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, becoming the first Polish writer to do so.  Tobias Grey wrote a profile of Tokarczuk in the NY Times on August 8, 2018 titled: Olga Tokarczuk’s Book ‘Flights’ Is Taking Off.” Here’s an excerpt from the profile:

“Ms. Tokarczuk likened herself to a tailor making a dress. ‘The dress is beautiful and comfortable to wear,’ she said. ‘But like the reader, the person who wears it is not expected to know precisely how all the materials that make it are connected.’ When Ms. Tokarczuk finished writing ‘Flights’ she gathered all her pages and spent a week studying them spread out on the floor of her living room. ‘It was funny because I had to climb onto a table to see how they looked from a high vantage point,’ she said. ‘I trusted my intuition to find the book’s order, and I wouldn’t change anything now.'”


Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk from Los Angeles Review of Books

All of it is really just absurd and seems improbable

“While working on my first novel, I developed Central Serous Retinopathy, or stress-related vision loss in my left eye. Doctors said it was imperative that I relax, but I wasn’t about to give up my passion. Then it hit me: the absurd reality that writing a book robbed me of my sight. The human brain is powerful enough to send a man to the moon, yet, writing nearly blinded me. In that moment of clarity, I realized that reflecting on the sheer absurdity of existence was key. Now, whenever I find myself overwhelmed, I sit back, pet my dog, and count the innumerable bizarre occurrences that had to happen just so in order for me to be sitting in front of my typewriter at that moment: the highly volatile mixture of elements that exploded into our universe; the curious Tiktaalik fish that thought, What’s on that dry stuff?; and the fact that my mother and father, millions of years and coincidences later, graciously decided to make another human. All of it is really just absurd and seems improbable. Once I’ve reflected on that for a while, writing hardly seems impossible and I enter a state of repose, grateful to get back to work.”

— Michael A. Ferro, author of TITLE 13 in Writers Recommend (Poets & Writers, July 12, 2018)


Image Credit

Then one day, something happens

“We work on feelings. On beliefs. On behaviors. Letting go of the old, acquiring the new. We work and work and work. We practice. We struggle through. We go from one extreme to the other, and sometimes back through the course again. We make a little progress, go backward, and then go forward again. It may all seem disconnected. It may not sound like a harmonious, beautiful piece of music—just isolated notes. Then one day, something happens. We become ready to play with both hands, to put the music together.”

~ Melody Beattie, from Achieving Harmony (October 1, 2017)


Notes:

  • Image via Mennyfox55.
  • Inspired by a share by Beth @ Alive on All Channels: “At 7 a.m. all my voices start talking inside my head, and when it reaches a certain pitch I jump out and trap them before they’re gone. Or I shower and then the voices talk. You solve problems not by thinking directly of them but allowing them to ferment in their own time. You feed yourself. Make sure you have all the information, whether it’s aesthetic, scientific, mathematical, I don’t care what it is. Then you walk away from it and let it ferment. You ignore it and pretend you don’t care. Next thing you know, the answer comes.” –Ray Bradbury, Learning is solitary pursuit for Bradbury by Luaine Lee

I need one

Have a dog, or get one, or borrow one….When you’ve been deep in your head for a while, it’s important to touch something warm and alive, something mortal….While the dogs sniff a single blade of grass for two minutes, I find myself looking around. I notice a raptor overhead, an interesting human face, an overheard conversation, something discarded or forgotten in the grass. Be here for the writing life and be here for the real life. Each needs the other.

– Chelsey Johnson, from “Chelsey Johnson Recommends” in Poets & Writers (May 10, 2018)

 


Photo: via Newthom

Driving I-95 S. With Michelango.

Thursday. I’m heading south on I-95 to Manhattan. 5:45 am.  Pre-rush hour, traffic moving smoothly.

I’m swept back to an evening in December at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art: Michelangelo. Divine Draftsman & Artist.

My eyes pan the exhibit brochure…he was called Il Divino (“the divine one”)…the exhibit presents a stunning range and number of works…133 of his drawings, three of his marble sculptures…his wood model…his earliest paintings..the exhibition presents his stunning range.

I set down my wine glass on a tray.  And, separate myself from the group.

My ears catch the sound of my footfall on the marble floors as if to scold: “Slow down Jack. You are in the presence of a God.”

I slow my pace and pause in front of a marble sculpture. His hands built this, what, 500 years ago? This Man, Michelango, created this. He was a Man, just like you. You, a Hu-Man, just like him.  And, what did you do this week? [Read more…]

A Mind Divided

She’s a fellow blogger. She struggles with some ferocious demons. Here’s her story. I urge you to listen to the finish.

“A Reflection: Flickers in the Dark…How do you make a life out of ash? How do you move from the whole of the doily into the thread? For me, it started with flickers of light in my darkness…”

Moved…


Source: Sandy’s Blog @ A Mind Divided: “Flickers in the Dark” Reflection

 

Truth

Crispin Sartwell’s half tongue-in-check defense of texting and Twitter (Sept. 22) as a “golden age of the written word” ignores all evidence of the opposite (“Texting and Twitter Make This a Golden Age for the Written Word,” op-ed, Sept. 23). Those of us who ban laptops in the classroom he labels “schoolmarms,” and he cites the old charge of they-hated-comic-books-too for the millionth time, and to equally empty effect.

He skips the fact that the SAT added a writing component in 2006, and scores have dropped every year save two when they were flat. A recent Hart Research Associates poll of employers found barely one quarter (27%) think that recent college grads are well-prepared in writing. The ACT’s college readiness scores in English have actually dropped six percentage points in the last five years.

All of this has happened while youths have texted away the hours. Mr. Sartwell calls it writing, but he doesn’t realize that tweeting and texting don’t make them better writers. They make them better tweeters and texters. To say, “Perk up, young people, and keep on texting,” as he concludes, isn’t whimsical or cute or provocative. It’s irresponsible.

~ Mark Bauerlein,  Texting Isn’t the Same as Writing, or Even Thinking  (In a Letter to the Editor, wsj.com Sept 27, 2017)


Photo: “Texting” by Noa agravante

 

It’s been a long day

It’s worth mentioning that this is my edit. Of the roughly eight million words handwritten or typed into my diary since September 5, 1977, I’m including only a small fraction. An entirely different book from the same source material could make me appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even, dare I say, sensitive. On any given day I am all these things and more: stupid, cheerful, misanthropic, cruel, narrow-minded, open, petty—the list goes on and on…It wasn’t easy revisiting what are now 156 volumes of my diary.

I broke the job up—a month or two per day—but after reading about me, I’d have to spend the rest of the day being me. I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything quite so exhausting.

~ David Sedaris, in his Introduction to his new book “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” (Little, Brown and Company, May 30, 2017)


Notes:

Saturday Morning

Morning was calm and early afternoon beautiful, with temps near sixty degrees. Then the wind rose out of the canyons and the trees on the mountaintop bowed to some unseen god in the east…The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble – to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.

~ Philip Connors, from “Diary of a Fire Lookout” in Paris Review


Notes: Quote – Thank you Beth at Alive on All Channels. Photo: FOTO:MOG

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