Adding to my to-read list: Tracy K. Smith’s memoir “Ordinary Light.”
I read her post on Literary Hub “What Memoir Can Do That Poetry Can’t” and adored some of her phrases.
It is true that death resists the present tense.
But memory does death one better. Ignores the future.
No matter how clear and present these scenes from my life might have felt, I wasn’t looking at film takes or photographs of another time, but rather glimpsing that time through the lens of memory. A lens that is warped, riddled with dark spots, supremely susceptible to error. A lens shaped by habit, guided even only imperceptibly by the desire to see or not to see, a lens that is an extension of, in this case, me. A lens, I decided to admit, that it is as much a character in the story as any of the real people talking and eating and moving their way through scenes—which is why memoir, for all its sincere interest in the truth, is something we read as literature and not history. . . . Memory, making sense of the past by fashioning the past into something that finally makes sense.
A friend of mine shared this On Being link recently on social media (thank you, Susan!):
Three Eternal (So Far) Truths about Living and Writing by Parker J. Palmer.
I love this piece! It spoke to me on a number of levels, but the part I really needed to hear was this:
First, you need to figure out whether your chief aim is to write or to publish. Two decades of rejection letters would have shut me down if I hadn’t decided early on that my primary goal was not to be published but to be a writer — a person who, as someone sagely observed, is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes! Once it became clear that I wanted to write even if the publishing fairy never left a contract under my pillow, I could declare success as long as I kept writing. That’s a doable goal, and it’s under my control.
I think part of why I keep getting flustered by people’s constant queries about “how’s the writing coming?” is that there is this expectation hanging out there that I will create A Book.
I think in order to maintain my sanity and enable myself to continue to write without hitting a huge wall made of writer’s blocks, I need to focus on my definition of success as being “a person who writes.”
When a friend asked the other day about my writing, I noted that I was regularly writing blog posts (well, not as regularly as I would like), but, somewhat defensively, said that I hadn’t made progress towards a particular writing goal.
But I am writing! I AM A WRITER! There. I said it.
And perhaps that “getting out there” will lead to point number two in the article – blind luck. Opportunity can’t knock if you don’t have a door. Or something like that.
An excellent read from Maria Popova, over at Brainpickings, with many a link and thread I’d like to follow: Joseph Brodsky on How to Develop Your Taste in Reading.
Wish I’d heard about the Amtrak Residency for Writers earlier (though, indeed, I would not have been in a position to apply for it at the time).
What a neat opportunity!
(Genius marketing move, Amtrak!)
Something like 16,000 people applied for the residency, and 24 were selected. Well, 25, if you include the original writer-in-residence.
Would it have given me an edge if my dad is a railfan and I was the first child and was named after a railroad? (The Missouri-Kansas-Texas. The M-K-T. The Katy.)
Would it have given me an edge if I had applied to work for Amtrak out of Chicago during the summers when I was in college? (By the time they called me with a job offer, the semester had started again, and I had to decline.)
In any case, the program will give me some reading material, as I peruse the writings of the chosen writers-in-residence.
I love this list.
I especially love #13 – “I will copy down favorite passages in my own hand, to know what writing the words feels like.”
Copying down words will help me better connect with the books I read.
Interestingly, research supports this activity: hand-writing notes is superior to typing them, in terms of remembering concepts.