Archive for March 2011


Inspiration, Lack of

March 28th, 2011 — 11:27pm

March 28, 2011

6:15 p.m.

Cold and clear.

Another day at home working on revisions to the young adult novel.  Finally early in the evening I stop.  I feel dull, achy, and stupid.  I need fresh air.  Sallie and I head west across the ice of Muskallonge Lake, following a path the sun makes.  It feels like spring–the sun is so high so late in the day.

Last night when we arrived the sky was black, the stars shone sharp, and the lake was booming, making ice.  Everything is silent now.  The ice has an even popcorn stitch texture all across its surface.  A scrim of snow makes a crunching noise under my sneakers.  I like this.  I veer here and there to keep walking on the snow.  When I was a kid I always broke the thin pane of ice on puddles to hear them splinter, and this is like that.  Sallie and I each stop, independently, to investigate the only exceptions in the unbroken expanse of ice.  These are a feather, a scrap of birch bark, and a pine branch.  Sallie trots ahead, full of purpose.  Every now and then she looks back at me.  Her expression seems quizzical, but maybe it isn’t that, exactly.  Probably she isn’t really thinking.  She’s just doing.  Trotting.  Stopping.  Trotting.

After a mile I turn back.  My right arm and the right side of my face are very cold.  The wind is coming straight out of the north.  It’s not so much a wind as a breeze.  There’s always a breeze on the lake.  Maybe always a breeze in general.  Often visitors ask me if it’s always this windy.  I usually have to stop and think:  Is it windy?

Now back to revisions.  I think of myself as a slow writer.  For me revisions (and also first drafts) are painstaking and methodical.  Also–in the end, more or less–satisfying.  I hammer away at the manuscript.  I try to make things better.  That’s all I know I can do:  make things better.  Generally the process feels excruciating and uneven.  Very often I get up and pace.  I make more coffee and sip at it.  I eat small pieces of chocolate.  I ask the cats and Sallie random questions that they don’t bother to answer.  If they could, they’d roll their eyes at me:  You call this working?

Today  I pruned adjectives and adverbs and rewrote a chapter from mostly narration to mostly dialogue.  Also I ate half a bag of Parmesan garlic potato chips.

If I think too far ahead I feel overwhelmed by how much I want for the  manuscript.  I want it to be good.  I stop this line of thought in its tracks.  Back to work.  More hammering.

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P.S. In Praise of the Hen, or, Magic

March 22nd, 2011 — 6:29pm

All day I’ve been wishing everyone I know would go out and read E.B. White’s “The Hen, An Appreciation” right this minute.  It’s like wanting to give everyone a really spectacular present.   The essay says everything I could hope to say about chickens–and about human nature, pride, delight, endeavor, and Life, too–and better than I could hope to say it, which is both daunting and inspiring.

I love E. B. White.  That’s the bottom line.  My esteem for his work just keeps growing.

I was lucky to see this essay.  It’s not in my E.B. White essay collection, and it’s not online, either, at least not in its entirety as far as I can find.  But a new librarian friend from Ithaca, New York (who also keeps chickens and has been reviewing my upcoming young adult novel, consulting on the poultry details in particular), forwarded “The Hen” to me.  It was perfect.  As a writer I like to aim way beyond my capabilities and this essay became a target.  If I could write something that had even a hint of White’s grace and humor, I’d be glad.  He’s so good.  Even two months later I’m dying to quote random sentences to anyone who’ll listen.

I stop myself  (I remember so well how my siblings and I cringed as our dad cried Listen, listen! in regard to bits of whatever book he was reading, no matter how absorbed we were in our games and toys and no matter how far the material was over our heads), but just barely.  But that excitement–it’s one of the gifts of reading, right?  And the sense of connection, too.  I get to hang out with E.B. White, which is astounding.  He’s not only one of my biggest literary heroes, he’s dead.

This is, absolutely, magic.

Here’s my wish for today:  that I spark a run, however miniature, on bookstores and libraries, that I set people–or even just a person–clamoring for a copy of  “The Hen, An Appreciation.”*

Wouldn’t that be something.

*John (the Ithican librarian) points out that any clamoring needs to be for “The Second Tree From the Corner,” the collection the essay is in, which he says appears to be out of print.  So, a  great opportunity to go to the library or your local used bookstore.

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