Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Character

Free MOOC Course from The University of Edinburgh – How to Read a Novel – Focus on Plot, Setting, Character, & Dialog

A MOOC or a Free University Class is a good way to keep your mind sharp and hone your skill in almost any field that might interest you. I have just begun the class How to Read a Novel, offered by The University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Because I teach a writing class and also monitor a book club, I am always looking for lists of great books and for tips to help improve my understanding in either field. I am excited that in the class How to Read a Novel, the class will be focusing on four books that have recently been published. Because I am from the South, I am extremely thrilled that the class will study The Sport of the Kings by C. E. Morgan.

The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan

A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction • From a Recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize • Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence • A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly • GQ  The New York Times (Selected by Dwight Garner)  NPR • The Wall Street Journal• San Francisco Chronicle • Refinery29  Booklist • Kirkus Reviews Commonweal Magazine

“In its poetic splendor and moral seriousness, The Sport of Kings bears the traces of Faulkner, Morrison, and McCarthy. . . . It is a contemporary masterpiece.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Hailed by The New Yorker for its “remarkable achievements,” The Sport of Kings is an American tale centered on a horse and two families: one white, a Southern dynasty whose forefathers were among the founders of Kentucky; the other African-American, the descendants of their slaves.

“It is a dauntless narrative that stretches from the fields of the Virginia piedmont to the abundant pastures of the Bluegrass, and across the dark waters of the Ohio River; from the final shots of the Revolutionary War to the resounding clang of the starting bell at Churchill Downs. As C. E. Morgan unspools a fabric of shared histories, past and present converge in a Thoroughbred named Hellsmouth, heir to Secretariat and a contender for the Triple Crown. Newly confronted with one another in the quest for victory, the two families must face the consequences of their ambitions, as each is driven—and haunted—by the same, enduring question: How far away from your father can you run?

“A sweeping narrative of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in the shadow of slavery and a moral epic for our time.” Amazon

You can register for the free course How to Read A Novel Here

Other book choices for the Course How to Read a Novel:

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

“From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

“Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.” Amazon

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction • A Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction • A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Taite Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • A Finalist for the Green Carnation Prize • New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by More Than Fifty Publications, Including: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times (selected by Dwight Garner), GQ, The Washington Post,Esquire, NPR, Slate, Vulture, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (London), The Telegraph (London), The Evening Standard (London), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Millions, BuzzFeed, The New Republic (Best Debuts of the Year), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly (One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)

“Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You appeared in early 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year….It is not just first novelists who will be envious of Greenwell’s achievement.”―James Wood, The New Yorker

“On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

“What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.” Amazon

The Lesser Bohemians by Elmear McBride

Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize
Shortlisted for the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Eason Novel of the Year

The breathtaking new novel from Eimear McBride, about an extraordinary, all-consuming love affair

“Eimear McBride’s debut novel A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING was published in 2013 to an avalanche of praise: nominated for a host of literary awards, winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the inaugural Goldsmith’s Prize, declared by Vanity Fair to be “One of the most groundbreaking pieces of literature to come from Ireland, or anywhere, in recent years,” McBride’s bold, wholly original prose immediately established her as a literary force. Now, she brings her singular voice to an unlikely love story.

“One night an eighteen-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to attend drama school, meets an older man – a well-regarded actor in his own right. While she is naive and thrilled by life in the big city, he is haunted by more than a few demons, and the clamorous relationship that ensues risks undoing them both.

“A captivating story of passion and innocence, joy and discovery set against the vibrant atmosphere of 1990s London over the course of a single year, THE LESSER BOHEMIANS glows with the eddies and anxieties of growing up, and the transformative intensity of a powerful new love.” Amazon

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Quotes with Page Numbers – Truman Capote’s Experiences of New York City

Notes from the Book Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“Songs of Innocence and of Experience[1] is an illustrated collection of poems by William Blake. It appeared in two phases. A few first copies were printed and illuminated by William Blake himself in 1789; five years later he bound these poems with a set of new poems in a volume titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” Wikipedia

Blake wrote The Lamb, which is the essence of mankind’s pure, innocent nature, and as contrast, he wrote The Tyger, which is representative of mankind’s almost hardened and wicked nature. Close to the end of the poem, he asks the question:

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Question: Did the same Capote write both In Cold Blood & Breakast at Tiffany’s.

Truman Capote has a simple but powerful way of talking about the places where he has lived, and the book and movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an example of the author’s ability to do just that. Unfortunately, too many people only know of the Truman Capote who wrote In Cold Blood, but I venture to say that the author’s book about the brutal killings in Kansas is totally unlike the rest of his writing and probably unlike Capote himself.

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Capote also wrote The Grass Harp, which was made into a movie, and in my opinion, The Grass Harp is more representative of Capote than In Cold Blood.

“Set on the outskirts of a small Southern town, The Grass Harp tells the story of three endearing misfits—an orphaned boy and two whimsical old ladies—who one day take up residence in a tree house. As they pass sweet yet hazardous hours in a china tree, The Grass Harp manages to convey all the pleasures and responsibilities of freedom. But most of all it teaches us about the sacredness of love, “that love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life.”

“This volume also includes Capote’s A Tree of Night and Other Stories, which the Washington Post called “unobtrusively beautiful . . . a superlative book.” Amazon

Truman Capote’s  A Christmas Memory is also representative of his typically sweet and nostalgic, memoir style of writing:

“First published in 1956, this much sought-after autobiographical recollection from Truman Capote (In Cold BloodBreakfast at Tiffany’s) about his rural Alabama boyhood is a perfect gift for Capote’s fans young and old.

“Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: “It’s fruitcake weather!” Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship and the memories the two friends share of beloved holiday rituals. ” Amazon

[By the way, if you buy the correct volume of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Memory is included in the volume].

A Thanksgiving Memory is also representative of Capote’s lyrical reminiscences.

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“A Christmas Memory,” “One Christmas,” and “A Thanksgiving Memory.” All three stories are distinguished by Capote’s delicate interplay of childhood sensibility and recollective vision.

“Available for the first time in a single volume are the three holiday stories that Truman Capote regarded as among his greatest works of short fiction. Two of these childhood memoirs – “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” – center on the author’s early years with a family of distant relatives in rural Alabama. Both pay loving tribute to an eccentric old-maid cousin, Miss Sook Faulk, who became his best friend. In “A Christmas Memory”, Miss Sook, Buddy (the narrator), and their dog, Queenie, celebrate the yuletide in a hilariously tipsy state. In the poignant reminiscence “One Christmas”, six-year-old Buddy journeys to New Orleans for a reunion with his estranged father that shatters many illusions. And in “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, Miss Sook invites the school bully, Odd Henderson – called by Buddy “the meanest human creature in my experience” – to Thanksgiving dinner.” Amazon

In the same way that some of the best of Capote’s writing shares memories of his childhood homes, Breakfast at Tiffany’s captures Manhattan in New York City, which was also Capote’s home for a while, and in my opinion, Audrey Hepburn was the perfect person to capture the quiet coziness of Capote’s writing style. It is interesting that Truman Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the book, Capote describes Holly as having albino blonde hair. I read the book after I watched the movie, and I am glad that I did.  In my opinion, Audrey Hepburn is the quintessential Holly Golightly, and I enjoyed reading the book with an image of Audrey Hepburn in mind.

“It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood…. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty, as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.” p. 12

“She was never without dark glasses, she was always well-groomed, there was a consequential good taste in the plainness of her clothes….One might have thought her a photographer’s model, perhaps a young actress….” p. 14

“I discovered, from observing the trash-basket outside her door, that her regular reading consisted of tabloids and travel folders and astrological charts; that she smoked an esoteric cigarette called Picayunes; survived on cottage cheese and melba toast….” p. 15

 

“It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood…. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty, as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.” p. 12

“She was never without dark glasses, she was always well-groomed, there was a consequential good taste in the plainness of her clothes….One might have thought her a photographer’s model, perhaps a young actress….” p. 14

“I discovered, from observing the trash-basket outside her door, that her regular reading consisted of tabloids and travel folders and astrological charts; that she smoked an esoteric cigarette called Picayunes; survived on cottage cheese and melba toast….” p. 15

“Also she had a cat and she played the guitar.

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“On days when the sun was strong, she would wash her hair, and together with the cat, a red-striped tom, sit out on the fire escape thumbing a guitar while her hair dried.” p. 16.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie that was released in 1961. It is based on Truman Capote’s novella by the same name.

[Most of us know that Audrey Hepburn made fashion history in the black dress and sunglasses that she wore in the film. Like most people, I have long associated the fashion staple the little black dress with Audrey Hepburn and the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and when I as a child, I memorized the theme song “Moon River” and learned to play it on several instruments. In many ways, I grew up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I could have sworn that I had seen the movie before, but until recently, I had not.  I decided that I needed to correct that mistake, and I am glad that I did.]

[“The song ‘Moon River’ was written especially for Audrey Hepburn, since she had no training as a singer. The vocals were written to be sung in only one octave. The famous black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the opening scenes of this movie was sold for $807,000 on December 4, 2006 at Christie’s Auction House in London, making it the second most expensive piece of movie memorabilia ever sold.” Read More Here]

[“Tiffany’s flagship store (since 1940) is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City. The former Tiffany and Company Building on 38th Street is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The polished granite exterior is well known for its tiny window displays. The store has been the location for a number of films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sweet Home Alabama and Sleepless In Seattle.” Read More Here]

As I said before, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is largely about the period when Manhattan was Capote’s home:

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. …The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.

“It never occurred to me in those days to write about Holly Golightly….” – Truman Capote –Breakfast at Tiffany’s page 3

“Outside, the rain had stopped, there was only a mist of it in the air, so I turned the corner and walked along the street where the brownstone stands. It is a street with trees that in the summer make cool patterns on the pavement; but now the leaves were yellowed and mostly down, and the rain had made them slippery, they skidded underfoot. The brownstone is midway in the block, next to a church were the blue tower-clock tolls the hours.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s, p. 10

 

In 1961, I was 11-years-old, and I was growing up in rural Southeast Missouri–which is a world away from New York City. I did not visit New York City until 2010, and in an odd way, I am glad that I did not watch Breakfast at TIffany’s until after I had become familiar with the Big Apple. My current home is very close to New York, and I visit the city often. As the film opens, a cab makes its way from Tiffany’s to Holly’s apartment, and it follows a route along what has become my favorite walkway in NYC. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed over half a century ago, the New York City that it captures is very much the same now as it was then, and I loved seeing the NYC that is captured in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Central Park is one of my very favorite places, and part of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is filmed there.

Bandshell, Central Park (from 66th to 72nd Street) Manhattan

Conservatory Water, Central Park (from 72nd to 75th Street) Manhattan.

“That Monday in October, 1943. A beautiful day with the buoyancy of a bird. …

“We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the park Afterward, avoiding the zoo (Holly said she couldn’t bear to see anything in a cage)…. Leaves floated on the lake; on the shore, a park-man was fanning a bonfire of them, and the smoke, rising like Indian signals, was the  only smudge on the quivering air. Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring; which is how I felt sitting with Holly on the railings of the boathouse porch. I thought of the future, and spoke of the past. Because Holly wanted to know about my childhood. She talked of her own, too; but it was elusive, nameless, placeless, an impressionistic recital, though the impression received was contrary to what one expected, for she gave an almost voluptuous account of swimming and summer, Christmas trees, pretty cousins and parties: in short, happy in a way that she was not, and never, certainly, the background  of a child who had run away.” p. 51

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‘Passing a Woolworth’s, she gripped my arm: ‘Let’s steal something,’ she said, pulling me into the store, where at once there seemed  a pressure of eyes, as though we were already under suspicion. ‘Come on. Don’t be chicken.’ She scouted a counter piled with paper pumpkins and Halloween masks. … Holly picked up a mask and slipped it over her face; she chose another and put it on mine; then she took my hand and we walked away. It was as simple as that.

“Outside, we ran a few blocks, I  think to make it more dramatic….p. 52

“We wore the masks all the way home.” p. 53.

During the early part of the film, Cat is the only character who wasn’t wearing a mask. But the true monsters of the film are its rats, and the depth of the movie revolves around Holly’s discoveries about them.

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Holly’s goodbye letter from José:

“My dearest little girl, I have loved you knowing you were not as others. But conceive of my despair upon discovering in such a brutal and public style how very different you are from the manner of woman a man of my faith and career could hope to make his wife. … So I hope you will find it in your heart not to condemn me I have my family to protect, and my name, and I am a coward where those institutions enter. Forget me, beautiful child. I am no longer here I am gone home.” p. 94

“All right, he’s not a rat without reason. A super-sized King Kong-type rat like Rusty…. I did love him. The rat” p. 94

“All right — so he’s not a regular rat, or even a super rat. He’s just a scared little mouse. But — oh, golly, gee, damn!” Movie quote

Neither the book nor the movie are perfect. The book is plagued with politically incorrect references to “dykes” and “les negres,” and the movie suffers from some very weak scenes in which Mickey Rooney poorly plays a China Man. Those scenes are embarrassingly inappropriate now.

I’m glad that I stuck with the film through the rough patches, however, and into the relationship that develops between Hepburn and George Peppard. This relationship and Holly’s struggles with “the Reds” is the meat of the film.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Paul Varjak: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!

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“Angst. But what do you do about it?”

“Well, a drink helps.”

“I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too…

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away,  the quietness and the proud look of it: nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place like Tiffany’s then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.” p. 38.

“Didn’t I tell you this was a lovely place?”

“Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?” “…Oh; yes.” “That’s nice to know… It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.”

[I don’t want to completely destroy the film for people who haven’t seen it yet, but the message lies within Holly Golightly’s attempts to deny what is and is not valuable in life. Because of the honest way that Capote created Holly Golighty, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is much more than Romantic Comedy [a genre that I usually detest]. For several minutes into the film, I thought that the movie was going to be silly, but by the end, I was in tears. Holly Golightly is a well-developed character. She is a hayseed who has escaped to New York City and who is caught in the fruitless snare of trying to play the part of someone that she can never be.]

“…the kid’s fifteen But stylish: she’s okay, she comes across. Even when she’s wearing glasses this thick; even when she opes her mouth and you don’t know if she’s a hillbilly or an Okie or what. I still don’t. My guess, nobody’ll ever know where she came from. She’s such a goddamn liar, maybe she don’t know herself any more. But it took us a year to smooth out that accent. How we did it finally, we gave her French lessons: after she could speak French, she could imitate English.” p. 30.

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“But Doc, I’m not fourteen anymore, and I’m not Lulamae. But the terrible part is (and I realized [p. 69] it while we were standing there) I am. I’m still stealing turkey eggs and running through a brier patch. Only now I call it having the mean reds” pgs 69-70.

“Never love a wild thing….That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up…if you love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.

. . .

“…it’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.” p 70

“No matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.” [movie[

If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and several other related features free Here.

“She’s a phony. But she’s a real phony. You know why? Because she honestly believes all this phony junk that she believes.”

“Promise me one thing: don’t take me home until I’m drunk — very drunk indeed.”

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Holly Golightly’s relationship with Peppard develops slowly:

“For I was in love with her. Just as I’d once been in love with my mother’s elderly colored cook and a postman who let me follow him on his rounds and a whole family named McKendrick. That category of love generates jealousy, too.” p. 72

“Those final weeks, spanning end of summer and the beginning of another autumn, are blurred in memory, perhaps because our understanding of each other  had reached that sweet depth where two people communicate more often in silence than in words: an affectionate quietness replaces the tensions, the unrelaxed chatter and chasing about that produce a friendship’s more showy, more in the surface sense, dramatic moments. … we spent entire evenings together during which we exchanged less than a hundred words; once, we walked all the way to Chinatown [p. 79] … then moseyed across the Brooklyn Bridge, and on the bridge, as we watched seaward-moving ships pass between the cliffs of burning skyline….

“So the days, the last days, blow about in memory, hazy, autumnal, all alike as leaves: until a day unlike any other I’ve lived.

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“The stables–I believe they have been replaced by television studios–were on West Sixty-sixth Street. Holly selected for me an old sway-back black and white mare: ‘Don’t worry, she’s safer than a cradle.’” p. 82

I have watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s repeatedly now, and every time “Moon River” begins to play, I get cold chills. I love the way that the film opens on a surrealistically empty New York City Fifth Avenue, and the way that the taxi cab drives you down to Holly Golightly’s apartment. I have walked that same route so very many times that i have nearly memorized it, and the book does allow you glimpses into Manhattan and NYC, but the movie is distinguished from the book in the way that it ends with the cat:

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“She was still hugging the cat. ‘Poor slob,’ she said, tickling his head, ‘poor slob without a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.’ She smiled, and let the cat drop to the floor. ‘It’s like Tiffany’s,’ she said.” p. 37

[Holly Golightly decides to run away from all of her troubles and asks her writer friend (the George Peppard character) to

gather her belongings and cat and to bring them to the bar, for her escape].

“The sky was red Friday night, it thundered, and Saturday, departing day, the city swayed in a squall-like downpur. Sharks might have swum through the air….” p.. 98

“Stumbling skidding up and down the fire escape between Holly’s apartment and mine, wind-blown and winded and wet to the bone (clawed to the bone as well for the cat had not looked favorably upon evacuation, especially in such inclement weather) I managed a fast, first-rate job of assembling her going-away belongings. I even found the St. Christopher’s medal. Everything was piled on the floor of my room, a poignant pyramid of brassieres and dancing slippers and pretty things I packed in Holly’s only suitcase. There was a mass left over that I had to put in paper grocery bags. I couldn’t think how to carry the cat; until I thought of stuffing him in a pillowcase.

“Never mind why, but once I walked from New Orleans to Nancy’s Landing, Mississippi, just under five hundred miles. It was a light-hearted lark compared to the journey to Joe Bell’s bar The guitar filled with rain, rain softened the paper sacks, the sacks split and perfume spilled on the pavement, pearls rolled in the gutter: [p. 99] while the wind pushed and the cat scratched, the cat screamed–but worse, I was frightened, a coward to equal José: those storming streets seemed aswarm with unseen presences waiting to trap, imprison me for aidng an outlaw.”

. . .

And the cat, released, leaped and perched on her shoulder: his tail swung like a baton conducting rhapsodic music. Holly, too, seemed inhabited by melody, some bouncy bon voyage ompahpah.” p. 100

. . .

“…and we pulled to the curb of a street in Spanish Harlem. A savage, a garish, a moody neighborhood garlanded with poster-portraits of movie stars and Madonnas. Side-walk litterings of fruit-rind and rotted newspaper were hurled about by the wind, for the wind still boomed, [p.101] though the rain had hushed and there were bursts of blue in the sky.

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“Holly stepped out of the car; she took the cat with her. Cradling him, she scratched his head and asked. ‘What do you think? This ought to be the right kind of place for a tough guy like you. Garbage cans. Rats galore. Plenty of cat-bums to gang around with. So scram,’ she said, dropping him, and when he did not move away, instead raised his thug-face and questioned her with yellowish pirate-eyes, she stamped her foot: ‘I said beat it!’

. . .

“I was stunned ‘Well, you are. You are a bitch.’ ” p. 102

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“…Where’s the cat?”

“Oh, cat.” [How the movie ends, but not how the book ends]

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not a GREAT book, and it is not a GREAT movie either. But because I had connected with the movie, I read the book, and I liked them both. The movie’s cat scene is unforgettable, and it is definitely the part of the movie where I knew that the movie “had” me.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s the movie was released at a time when there were only a few super movies. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were exceptions to that rule. I read Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone with the Wind when I was 16, and I enjoyed it, but I loved the movie. I am still trying to wade through reading the books of The Wizard of Oz, but I have watched the movie numerous times. I credit The Wizard of Oz with helping me become the person who I have become. When I was a young child, I watched that movie with my dad and when I was a young child, I learned how to distill the magic that runs parallel to existence. When I was a little girl, my third grade teacher gave me my own copy of the book Louisa Mae Alcott. It was a biography, and it was the first real book that I had owned. No doubt, that book and that teacher changed my life, but it is through the movies along my way that I have discovered magic.

©Jacki Kellum August 31, 2017

Memorize

I Enjoy a Good Book – I Am Enamored by a Good Movie

On the third Friday of each month, I lead a Book & Movie club at my local library. The idea is to find good books that have been captured as good movies. For many years, it was a bit of a habit to dismiss books made into movies, saying: “But the book is better,” and I have found that some people hold on to what may have been a truth at one time. In recent years, however, there have been some excellent movie interpretations of books: i.e. The Lord of the Rings, Out of Africa, Pride & Prejudice, and I can earnestly say that in many cases, I prefer watching good movies to reading.

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2005 Pride and Prejudice

I am a visual person, and I love the outstanding, panoramic photography that becomes part of the movie’s total experience.

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Lord of the Rings

In a great movie, the music becomes part of your total experience, too. I never shall forget the first time that I watched The Lord of the Rings. As soon as the music of the Shire began, I was totally enamored by everything Lord of the Rings. I loved the setting. I loved the characters. I loved the cinematography, and I loved the story. I learned to love Tolkien through film and not through his books;and I believe that it is okay to admit that we find movies to be literature, on their own terms.

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When I watch a movie, the actors and actresses become the actual characters of the book. Don’t ever try to convince me that Ian McKellen is not the one, true Gandalf the Grey.

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Before I watched Selma Hayek play Frida Kahlo on the screen, I had seen Frida Kahlo paintings for decades. Yet, after watching Frida, Selma Hayek has become Frida Kahlo, in my mind.

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Because of the movie Out of Africa, Meryl Streep has become Isak Dinesen to me.

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And because of her portrayal in the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice, Kiera Knightley has become all of Jane Austen for me.

At times, a movie may not be absolutely true to an author’s intent. Truman Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the book, Capote describes Holly as having albino blonde hair. Because I am responsible for picking the book-movie selections for my club, I watch every movie-book combo that I can find, and in most cases, I watch the movie before I read the book. That was the order with my experiencing Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was stunned to read that Holly Golightly was supposed to have blonde hair. In my opinion, Audrey Hepburn is the quintessential Holly Golightly, and in my opinion, the movie would have been less effective with Marilyn Monroe.

“It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood…. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty, as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.” p. 12

“She was never without dark glasses, she was always well-groomed, there was a consequential good taste in the plainness of her clothes….One might have thought her a photographer’s model, perhaps a young actress….” p. 14

“I discovered, from observing the trash-basket outside her door, that her regular reading consisted of tabloids and travel folders and astrological charts; that she smoked an esoteric cigarette called Picayunes; survived on cottage cheese and melba toast….” p. 15

“Also she had a cat and she played the guitar.

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“On days when the sun was strong, she would wash her hair, and together with the cat, a red-striped tom, sit out on the fire escape thumbing a guitar while her hair dried.” p. 16.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie that was released in 1961. It is based on Truman Capote’s novella by the same name.

Most of us know that Audrey Hepburn made fashion history in the black dress and sunglasses that she wore in the film. Like most people, I have long associated the fashion staple the little black dress with Audrey Hepburn and the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and when I as a child, I memorized the theme song “Moon River” and learned to play it on several instruments. In many ways, I grew up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I could have sworn that I had seen the movie before, but until recently, I had not.  I decided that I needed to correct that mistake, and I am glad that I did.

“The song ‘Moon River’ was written especially for Audrey Hepburn, since she had no training as a singer. The vocals were written to be sung in only one octave. The famous black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the opening scenes of this movie was sold for $807,000 on December 4, 2006 at Christie’s Auction House in London, making it the second most expensive piece of movie memorabilia ever sold.” Read More Here

“Tiffany’s flagship store (since 1940) is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City. The former Tiffany and Company Building on 38th Street is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The polished granite exterior is well known for its tiny window displays. The store has been the location for a number of films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sweet Home Alabama and Sleepless In Seattle.” Read More Here

To a large extent, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Capote’s story of having lived,  as a writer, in New York City.

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. …The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.

“It never occurred to me in those days to write about Holly Golightly….” – Truman Capote –Breakfast at Tiffany’s page 3

“Outside, the rain had stopped, there was only a mist of it in the air, so I turned the corner and walked along the street where the brownstone stands. It is a street with trees that in the summer make cool patterns on the pavement; but now the leaves were yellowed and mostly down, and the rain had made them slippery, they skidded underfoot. The brownstone is midway in the block, next to a church were the blue tower-clock tolls the hours.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s, p. 10

 

In 1961, I was 11-years-old, and I was growing up in rural Southeast Missouri–which is a world away from New York City. I did not visit New York City until 2010, and in an odd way, I am glad that I did not watch Breakfast at TIffany’s until after I had become familiar with the Big Apple. My current home is very close to New York, and I visit the city often. As the film opens, a cab makes its way from Tiffany’s to Holly’s apartment, and it follows a route along what has become my favorite walkway in NYC. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed over half a century ago, the New York City that it captures is very much the same now as it was then, and I loved seeing NYC captured in the film.

Central Park is one of my very favorite places, and part of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is filmed there.

Bandshell, Central Park (from 66th to 72nd Street) Manhattan

Conservatory Water, Central Park (from 72nd to 75th Street) Manhattan.

“That Monday in October, 1943. A beautiful day with the buoyancy of a bird. …

“We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the park Afterward, avoiding the zoo (Holly said she couldn’t bear to see anything in a cage)…. Leaves floated on the lake; on the shore, a park-man was fanning a bonfire of them, and the smoke, rising like Indian signals, was the  only smudge on the quivering air Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring;; which is how I felt sitting with Holly on the railings of the boathouse porch. I thought of the future, and spoke of the past. Because Holly wanted to know abut my childhood. She talked of her own, too; but it was elusive, nameless, placeless, an impressionistic recital, though the impression received was contrary t what one expected, for she gave an almost voluptuous account of swimming and summer, Christmas trees, pretty cousins and parties: in short, happy in a way that she was not, and never, certainly, the background f a child who had run away.” p. 51

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‘Passing a Woolworth’s, she gripped my arm: ‘Let’s steal something,’ she said, pulling me into the store, where at once there seemed  a pressure of eyes, as though we were already under suspicion. ‘Come on,. Don’t be chicken.’ She scouted a counter pied with paper pumpkins and Halloween masks. … Holly picked up a mask and slipped it over her face; she chose another and put it on mine; then she took my hand and we walked away. It was as simple as that.

“Outside, we ran a few blocks, I  think to make it more dramatic….p. 52

“We wore the masks all the way home.” p. 53.

During the early part of the film, Cat is the only character who wasn’t wearing a mask. But the true monsters of the film are its rats, and the depth of the movie revolves around Holly’s discoveries about them.

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Holly’s goodbye letter from Jose:

“My dearest little girl, I have loved you knowing you were nt as others. But conceive of my despair upon discovering in such a brutal and public style how very different you are from the manner of woman a man of my faith and career could hope to make his wife. … So I hope you will find it in your heart not to condemn me I have my family to protect, and my name, and I am a coward where those institutions enter. Forget me, beautiful child. I am no longer here I am gone home.” p. 94

“All right, he’s not a rat without reason. A super-sized King Kong-type rat like Rusty…. I did love him. The rat” p. 94

“All right — so he’s not a regular rat, or even a super rat. He’s just a scared little mouse. But — oh, golly, gee, damn!” Movie quote

Neither the book nor the movie are perfect. The book is plagued with politically incorrect references to “dykes” and “les negres,” and the movie suffers from some very weak scenes in which Mickey Rooney poorly plays a China Man. Those scenes are embarrassingly inappropriate now.

I’m glad that I stuck with the film through the rough patches, however, and into the relationship that develops between Hepburn and George Peppard. This relationship and Holly’s struggles with “the Reds” is the meat of the film.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Paul Varjak: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture a give the cat a name!

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“Angst. But what do yu do about it?”

“Well, a drink helps.”

“I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too…

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s It calms me down right away,  the quietness and the proud look of it: nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place like Tiffany’s then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.” p. 38.

“Didn’t I tell you this was a lovely place?”

“Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?” “…Oh; yes.” “That’s nice to know… It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.”

[I don’t want to completely destroy the film for people who haven’t seen it yet, but the message lies within Holly Golightly’s attempts to deny what is and is not valuable in life. Because of the honest way that Capote created Holly Golighty, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is much more than Romantic Comedy [a genre that I usually detest]. For several minutes into the film, I thought that the movie was going to be silly, but by the end, I was in tears. Holly Golightly is a well-developed character. She is a hayseed who has escaped to New York City and who is caught in the fruitless snare of trying to play the part of someone that she can never be.]

“…the kid’s fifteen But stylish: she’s okay, she comes across. Even when she’s wearing glasses this thick; even when she opes her mouth and you don’t know if she’s a hillbilly or an Okie or what. I still don’t. My guess, nobody’ll ever know where she came from. She’s such a goddamn liar, maybe she don’t know herself any more. But it took us a year to smooth out that accent. How we did it finally, we gave her French lessons: after she could speak French, she could imitate English.” p. 30.

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“But Doc, I’m not fourteen anymore, and I’m not Lulamae. But the terrible part is (and I realized [p. 69] it while we were standing there) I am. I’m still stealing turkey eggs and running through a brier patch. Only now I call it having the mean reds” pgs 69-70.

“Never love a wild thing….That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up…if you love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.

. . .

“…it’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.” p 70

“No matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and several other related features free Here.

“She’s a phony. But she’s a real phony. You know why? Because she honestly believes all this phony junk that she believes.”

“Promise me one thing: don’t take me home until I’m drunk — very drunk indeed.”

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Holly Golightly’s relationship with Peppard develops slowly:

“For I was in love with her. Just as I’d once been in love with my mother’s elderly clred cook and a postman wh let me follow him on his rounds and a whole family named McKendrick That category of love generates jealousy, too.” p. 72

“Those final weeks, spanning end of summer and the beginning of another autumn, are blurred in memory, perhaps because our understanding of each other  had reached that sweet depth where two people communicate more often in silence than in words: an affectionate quietness replaces the tensions, the unrelaxed chatter and chasing about that produce a friendship’s more showy, more in the surface sense, dramatic moments. … we spent entire evenings together during which we exchanged less than a hundred words; once, we walked all the way to Chinatown [p. 79] … then moseyed across the Brooklyn Bridge, and on the bridge, as we watched seaward-moving ships pass between the cliffs of burning skyline….

“So the days, the last days, blow about in memory, hazy, autumnal, all alike as leaves: until a day unlike any other I’ve lived.

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“The stables–I believe they have been replaced by television studios–were on West Sixty-sixth Street. Holly selected for me an old sway-back black and white mare: ‘Don’t worry, she’s safer than a cradle.'” p. 82

I have watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s repeatedly now, and every time “Moon River” begins to play, I get cold chills. I love the way that the film opens on a surrealistically empty New York City Fifth Avenue, and the way the the taxi cab drives you down to Holly Golightly’s apartment. I have walked that same route so many times that i have nearly memorized it, and the book does allow you glimpses into Manhattan and NYC, but the movie is distinguished from the book in the way that t ends with the cat:

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“She was still hugging the cat. ‘Poor slob,’ she said, tickling his head, ‘poor slob without a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.’ She smiled, and let the at drop to the floor. ‘It’s like Tiffany’s,’ she said.” p. 37

[Holly Golightly decides to run away from all of her troubles and asks her writer friend [the George Peppard character] to

gather her belongings and cat and to bring them to the bar, for her escape].

“The sky was red Friday night, it thundered, and Saturday, departing day, the city swayed in a squall-like downpur. Sharks might have swum through the air….” p.. 98

“Stumbling skidding up and down the fire escape between Holly’s apartment and mind, wind-blown and winded and wet to the bone (clawed to the bone as well fr the cat had not looked favorably upon evacuation, especially in such inclement weather) I managed a fast, first-rate job of assembling her going-away belongings. I even found the St. Christopher’s medal. Everything was piled on the floor of my room, a poignant pyramid of brassieres and dancing slippers and dancing slippers and pretty things I packed in Holly’s only suitcase. There was a mass left over that I had to put in paper grocery bags I couldn’t think how to carry the cat; until I thought of stuffing him in a pillowcase.

“Never mind why, but once I walked from New Orleans to Nancy’s Landing, Mississippi, just under five hundred miles. It was a light-hearted lark compared to the journey to Joe Bells bar The guitar filled with rain, rain softened the paper sacks, the sacks split and perfume spilled on the pavement, pearls rolled in the gutter: [p. 99] while the wind pushed and the cat scratched, the cat screamed–but worse, I as frightened, a coward t equal Jose: those storming streets seemed aswarm with unseen presences waiting to trap, imprison me for aidng an outlaw.”

. . .

And the cat, released, leaped and perched on her shoulder: his tail sung like a baton conducting rhapsodic music. Holly, too, seemed inhabited by melody, some bouncy bon voyage ompahpah.” p. 100

. . .

“…and we pulled to the curb of a street in Spanish Harlem. A savage, a garish, a moody neighborhood garlanded with poster-portraits of movie stars and Madonnas. Side-walk litterings of fruit-rind and rotted newspaper were hurled about by the wind, fr the wind still boomed, [p.101] though the rain had hushed and there were bursts of blue in the sky.

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“Holly stepped out of the car; she took the cat with her. Cradling him, she scratched his head and asked. ‘What do you think? This ought to be the right kind of place for a tough guy like you. Garbage cans. Rats galore. Plenty of cat-bums to gang around with. So scram,’ she said, dropping him, and when he did not move away, instead raised his thug-face and questioned her with yellowish pirate-eyes, she stamped her foot: ‘I said beat it!’

. . .

“I was stunned ‘Well, you are. You are a bitch.’ ” p. 102

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“…Where’s the cat?”

“Oh, cat.” [How the movie ends, but not how the book ends]

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not a GREAT book, and it is not a GREAT movie either. But because I had connected with the movie, I read the book, and I liked them both. The movie’s cat scene is unforgettable, and it is definitely the part of the movie where I knew that the movie “had” me.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s the movie was released at a time when there were only a few super movies. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were exceptions to that rule. I read Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone with the Wind when I was 16, and I enjoyed it, but I loved the movie. I am still trying to wade through reading the books of The Wizard of Oz, but I have watched the movie numerous times. I credit The Wizard of Oz with helping me become the person who I have become. When I was a young child, I watched that movie with my dad and when I was a young child, I learned how to distill the magic that runs parallel to existence. When I was a little girl, my third grade teacher gave me my own copy of the book Louisa Mae Alcott. It was a biography, and it was the first real book that I had owned. No doubt, that book and that teacher changed my life, but it is through the movies along my way that I have discovered magic.

©Jacki Kellum August 30, 2017

Enamored

The Inability to Face the Truth and How Writing Heals – Passage from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides

In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family.

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing.

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.'” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Dr. Roberta Temes is a psychologist who has written about the power of writing to heal:

“Translating your feelings into words brings you amazing results. All you need to do is write about important life events. Write with feeling. Write with truth. Write about significant experiences, good and bad, and then write about your emotional responses to those experiences. You will benefit both physically and emotionally; it’s been proven that constructing your story is an exercise in healing.”

“Research tells us that the health benefits of writing about your life may include:

1, Improving Your Immune System.Studies have shown that your grades could improve if you are a student; and your number of sick days could be reduced if you are a worker; asthma sufferers have fewer attacks and AIDS patients have higher T-cell counts. These advantages occur as a result of investigating your past and then putting your thoughts into words. Your immune system becomes stronger when unresolved, previously unexplored incidents are revealed.
2. Reducing Your Anxiety Levels. When you write, you expose the truth. Telling the truth extinguishes the emotional burden of secrecy; keeping a secret uses up valuable energy. When you put your emotional distress into words it is no longer wandering through your mind causing worry, tension, insomnia, and other disturbances.
3. Eliminating Your Obsessions. Obsessions may be caused by unanswered questions. When your mind is busy asking ‘why,’ your focus becomes restricted to that one subject. Structuring past events into a coherent story permits you to manage your feelings about those events and eventually store them away — obsessions will diminish and then disappear. If there are traumas in your past please know that the emotional fallout from trauma is distress and distress can be alleviated by writing about the trauma and about your response to it. When you write, you safely summarize, organize and then explain your past. Forming that narrative calms your complicated sensitive memories.
It takes a few weeks after writing your story to get the full beneficial effect. Your mind needs time to absorb it all and reconfigure.”

I am currently reading The Prince of Tides and preparing for a book club, and as I have glanced at the WordPress Daily Prompts for the past three days, I have thought about how each of the prompts relates to what I am reading and thinking about what I am reading. Yesterday, the prompt was “Exposed,” and I thought about the fact that many of the Wingo family problems stem from the fact that the members of the family will not expose themselves. Most of the family members want to hide their problems from the world, but worst than that, they want to hide their problems from themselves.

Exposed

Today’s prompt is “Bitter,” and as I pointed out before, bitterness is often a result of our failures to deal with our problems.

Bitter

Three days ago, the writing prompt was “Better,” and by the end of Chapter 3 of Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo had begun to acknowledge some of the truths of his life. He had begun to expose himself and his family and he had dared to risk so that he might achieve what could only be achieved by that exposure–so that he could get better.

Better

Most people realize that Pat Conroy is Tom Wingo in the book Prince of Tides, but like the book character Savannah, the real Pat Conroy is also a person who strives to heal his own personal and family problems through his writing. The Prince of Tides is a highly autobiographical work for Pat Conroy. it is a chronicle of his family’s pain, and Prince of Tides is only one book through which Pat Conroy expresses his pain and his family’s dysfunction.

When Tom Wingo first met his sister’s psychiatrist, he was immediately cynical:

Dr. Lowenstein: ‘Has she ever attempted suicide before?’

Tom: ‘Yes. On two other bright and happy occasions.

Dr. Lowenstein: ‘Why do you say “bright and happy?”

Tom: ‘I was being cynical. I’m sorry. It’s a family habit I’ve fallen prey to.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 48

Anger followed Tom’s cynicism:

Dr. Lowenstein: “‘There are some background questions I need to ask if we’re going to help Savannah. And I’m sure we want to help Savannah, don’t we?’

“‘Not if you continue to talk to me in that unbearably supercilious tone, Doctor, as though I were some gaudy chimp your’e trying to teach to type. And not until you tell me where my goddamn sister is,’ I said, sitting on my hands to stop their visible trembling. The coffee and the headache intermingled and the faraway music [on the intercom] scratched along my eardrum like a nail.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 48

As part of society, we have been trained to believe that anger is a bad thing–a thing to be avoided, but in her book the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron explains that in some instances, anger can be beneficial [if we listen to what our anger is suggesting that we do]:

“Anger is fuel. We feel and and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it. like about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.

“Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way….” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 62.

. . .

“Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life . Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one. Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly anger is use-full.

“Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. …It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.

“Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 62-63.

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and ade a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

©Jacki Kellum May 8, 2017

The Importance of Learning to Wait

Two years ago, I had a blue kitchen. It was not a navy blue kitchen. I could have lived with that. My kitchen was a neutral color of blue that had no personality at all. In all of my years, I have never seen another kitchen that was the color of my dated and lackluster kitchen. Even the floor was blue. It was covered with a cheap blue vinyl, and the entire room screamed, “I was never fashionable.”

 

A few years ago, I tried to sell my house, and as soon as the potential buyers saw my kitchen floor, they turned around and walked back out of the house. Some of the cabinets had begun falling apart, and I decided that something had to be done about my kitchen. I knew that until I changed things, I would never sell my house, and since I had no money, I decided to fix the problem myself.

To disassemble the cabinets, I advertised on Craigslist that anyone who could take them down and cart them away could have them. I knew that I wanted stainless steel appliances, and I practically gave away my white appliances, too. Then, with a hammer clenched in my hand, I attacked the wall that stood between my tiny kitchen and my tiny dining room, and I myself removed that sucker. Now, I had one big room that would one day become a wonderful kitchen, but I didn’t have the resources to finish the job, so I waited. For over a year, my kitchen consisted of a crock pot, and electric skillet, and an old and dying refrigerator. Then, that refrigerator expired, and I bought my first new kitchen appliance–a beautiful stainless steel refrigerator.

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During my entire life, I have never lived in a newly built house; therefore, every time that I have moved into a house, a used refrigerator came with the used home. Although I have found it necessary to replace my fridges before, this was the first time that I have actually gone to the store and bought a new one. I was  66-years-old, and for the first time in my life, I had a brand new refrigerator–a stainless steel refrigerator–and one that had no scratches or dents.

As I stood and admired my new fridge and the beginning of my new kitchen, I considered how differently that I might have viewed the buying of a new refrigerator if I had been privy to tons of new appliances before now–and if during my lifetime, I had never actually wanted anything. Had that been the case, I would probably have been irritated by the minor hassle that replacing an old, dead appliance had caused and when I watched my new refrigerator rolling through my door, I would have experienced very little pleasure at all. I would have thought, “Easy come, easy go, It’s just a new appliance. It’s no big deal.” But that was not the way that the scenario plalyed out.

Refrigerator4

For the first time in my life, I had a brand new and shiny refrigerator, and I was thrilled.

This will sound odd, but I am happy that I don’t have everything that I want. I am even happy that I don’t have everything that I need, and I am happy that I have learned how to wait. The wanting and the waiting make me more appreciative when I actually receive.

For what I have received may the Lord make me truly thankful. And more truly for what I have not received. – Storm Jameson

Things could be quite different for me now that I am older and retired. I could have NOTHING left to want and there could be Nothing that would make my day. Thank goodness, that is not the case for me. It doesn’t take much at all to turn my life into a party.

©Jacki Kellum October 18, 2016

Waiting

How to Create Characters in Writing – Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as Character & Annie Dillard’s Father

Most stories center around a central character. The character may be a fuzzy, white circus dog or it may be a girl in Kansas whose life is turned topsy-turvy by a wicked witch and a tornado. The character may be a narcissistic Southern debutante whose life is destroyed by the Civil War or it might be that of the narcissist’s sweet and meek cousin Miss Melanie Hamilton. The character might be that of a New Englander who is forced to wear a letter “A” on her dress or it might be that of a pompous, arrogant, and zealous 16th-century minister. Regardless of who they are and what their predicaments become through the workings of the plot, stories focus upon characters. The better the writer can create his characters, the better his stories will be.

If the story is fiction, such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, we may begin to understand the character by the words she speaks in dialogue:

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Or our understandings of a story’s character might evolve as we observe what a person actually does.

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans. ” ― Ronald Reagan

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.”
― Criss Jami, Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile

When writing nonfiction, might approach the creating of his characters differently, but his approach should not be less creative. Look at some of the ways that Annie Dillard creates the character of her father in her book of memoir An American Childhood:

Annie Dillard is an exemplary memoir writer, and her memoir books read like great fiction.

In chapter 1 of her book American Childhood, Dillard demonstrates her skill with creating setting or sense of place for her memoir Here. 

In chapter 2 of the same book, Dillard skillfully brings her dad back to life Here:

Image result for an american childhood by annie dillard  “In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head.
“My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi. … There were dozens of copies of Life on the Mississippi on the living-room shelves.
. . .
“When all this reading went to my father’s head, he took action. .. He quit the firm his great-grandfather had [p. 6] founded a hundred years earlier down the river at his family’s seat in Louisville, Kentucky; he sold his own holdings in the firm. He was taking off for New Orleans.

“New Orleans was the source of the music he loved: Dixieland jazz, O Dixieland. In New Orleans men would blow it in the air and beat it underfoot, the music that hustled and snapped, the music whose zip matched his when he was a man-about-town at home in Pittsburgh, working for the family firm; the music he tapped his foot to  when he was a man-about-town in New York for a few years after college working for the family firm by day and hanging on at Jimmy Ruan’s on Fifty-second Street with Zutty Singleton, the black drummer who befriended him, and the rest of the house band.” Dillard, An American Childhood, pgs. 6-7.

Dillard begins to create the character of her dad in an anecdotal way. Afterward, she begins to develop his character through description:

“When our mother met Frank Doak, he was twenty-seven: witty, boyish, bookish, unsnobbish, a good dancer. He had grown up an only child in Pittsburgh, attended Shady Side Academy, and Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, where he studied history. He was a lapsed Presbyterian and a believing Republican. ‘Books make the man,’ read the blue bookplate in all his books.” Dillard, An American Childhood, p. 8.

A few paragraphs later, Dillard allows us to observe her father’s behavior, and she allows us to enter into his thought process–that is an important part of a character.

“It was a long way to New Orleans. . . . It was September; people had abandoned their pleasure boats for the season; their children were back in school. There were no old salts on the docks talking river talk. People weren’t so friendly as they were in Pittsburgh. There was no music except the dreary yacht-club jukeboxes playing ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?’ Jazz had come up the river once and for all. . . . He was living alone on  beans in a boat and having witless conversations with lockmasters. He mailed out sad postcards.
“From phone booths all down the Ohio River he talked to Mother. She told him that she was lonesome, too, and that three children–maid and nanny or no–were a handful.She said, further, that people were starting to talk. She knew Father couldn’t bear people’s talking. For all his dreaminess, he prized respectability above all. . . .After only six weeks, then–on the River at Louisville–he sold the boat and flew home.” Dillard, An American Childhood, p. 10.

In a masterful way, Dillard allows us to process her dad’s thoughts through what her mother has said to him, and afterward, we witness her dad’s response. Her dad’s response suggests the essence of Dillard’s father’s character.

“Choices determine character.” ― Brandon Mull, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Because good  characterization is vital to good storytelling, it is an important skill to study. When our stories have been told, it is the characters within those stories that have the power to stay.

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes — characters even — caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

But her father is not the main character in Dillard’s memoir–Dillard is. When we read what Dillard says of her reaction to her father’s trip down the river, we begin to discover a bit about Dillard herself:

“Children ten years old wake up and find themselves here, discover themselves to have been here all along; is this sad? They walk like sleepwalkers, in full stride; they wake like people brought back from cardiac arrest or from drowning. . . .

‘i woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.

“Consciousness converges with the child as a landing tern touches the outspread feet of its shadow on the sand: precisely, toe hits toe. The tern folds its wings to sit; its shadow dips and spreads over the sand to meet and cup its breast.
“Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertip on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after. [p. 11]
“I never woke, at first, without recalling, chilled, all those other waking times, those similar stark views from similarly lighted precipices: dizzying precipices from which the distant, glittering world revealed itself as a brooding and separated scene–and so let slip a queer implication, that I myself was both observer and observable, and so a possible object of my own humming awareness. Wherever I stepped into the porcelain bathtub, the bath’s hot water sent a shock traveling up my bones. The skin on my arms pricked up, and the hair rose on the back of my skull, I saw my own firm foot press the tub, and the pale shadows waver over it, as if I were looking down from the sky and remembering this scene forever. The skin on my face tightened, as it had always done whenever I stepped into the tube, and remembering it all drew a swinging line, loops connecting the dots, all the way back. You again.” Dillard, An American Childhood, pgs. 11-12.

In the opening lines of the movie version of Gone Baby Gone, the narrator raises another important consideration of character. In many cases, people are determined by their settings and the circumstances into which they are born:

Patrick Kenzie: I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they’d accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

How to Create a Character in Writing?

  1. Describe the way that the person looks. Be specific. Do not use cliché expressions like handsome or beautiful. Dig deeper and find words to tell what about the person makes him handsome or her beautiful. Don’t just say that he had black hair. Tell if the hair is straight, spiked, curly, and whether is reaches to the person’s navel or whether it is clipped above the ears.
  2. Allow the character to speak and allow the reader to understand the character by the words that he speaks and by his accent and by his use or abuse of grammar. If the character is Amish, he will use the words that Amish people use. If the character is from the 16th-century, he will speak in another way.
  3. Place your character in the setting that tells more about who he is. Is your character rural or is he a professor of law at Harvard?
  4. Use your five senses to tell more about the character. Does he smell like the pipe that he smokes in his library or does he smell like garlic? If so, why?

©Jacki Kellum October 16, 2016

A Lesson on Creating Great Characters for Writing – Annie Dillard – An American Childhood

Annie Dillard is an exemplary memoir writer, and her memoir books read like great fiction.

creative-nonfiction-jacki-kellum-1000

In chapter 1 of her book American Childhood, Dillard demonstrates her skill with creating setting or sense of place for her memoir Here. 

In chapter 2 of the same book, Dillard skillfully brings her dad back to life:

Image result for an american childhood by annie dillard  “In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head.
“My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi. … There were dozens of copies of Life on the Mississippi on the living-room shelves.
. . .
“When all this reading went to my father’s head, he took action. .. He quit the firm his great-grandfather had [p. 6] founded a hundred years earlier down the river at his family’s seat in Louisville, Kentucky; he sold his own holdings in the firm. He was taking off for New Orleans.

“New Orleans was the source of the music he loved: Dixieland jazz, O Dixieland. In New Orleans men would blow it in the air and beat it underfoot, the music that hustled and snapped, the music whose zip matched his when he was a man-about-town at home in Pittsburgh, working for the family firm; the music he tapped his foot to  when he was a man-about-town in New York for a few years after college working for the family firm by day and hanging on at Jimmy Ruan’s on Fifty-second Street with Zutty Singleton, the black drummer who befriended him, and the rest of the house band.
. . .
“Back in New Orleans where he was headed they would play the old stuff, the hot, rough stuff–bastardized for tourists maybe, but still the big and muddy source of it al. Back in New Orleans where he was headed the music would smell like the river itself, maybe, like a thicker, older version of the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh, where he heard the music beat in the roar of his boat’s inboard motor; like a thicker, older version of the wide Oio River at Louisville, Kentucky, where at his family’s summer house he’s spent his boyhood summers mucking about in boats.

“Getting ready for the trip one Saturday, he roamed around our big brick house snapping his fingers. He had put a record on: Sharkey Bonano, ‘Li’l Liza Jane.’ I was reading Robert Louis Stevenson on the sunporch: Kidnapped. I looked up from my book and saw him outside; he had wandered out to the lawn and was standing in the wind between the buckeye trees and looking up at what must have been a small patch of wild sky. Old Low-Pockets. he was six feet [p. 7] four, all lanky and leggy; he had thick brown hair and shaggy brows, and a mild and dreamy expression in his blue eyes.

“When our mother met Frank Doak, he was twenty-seven: witty, boyish, bookish, unsnobbish, a good dancer. He had grown up an only child in Pittsburgh, attended Shady Side Academy, and Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, where he studied history. He was a lapsed Presbyterian and a believing Republican. ‘Books make the man,’ read the blue bookplate in all his books.

 

Stephen King On Writing – Character Study of Eulah-Beulah – and Anne Lamott on Writing

“There was a stream of babysitters during our Wisconsin period…..The only one I remember with any clarity is Eula, or maybe it was Beulah. She was a teenager, and she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor–there seemed to be a potential thunderclap hidden inside each hand-patting, butt-rocking, head-tossing outburst of glee….

“Eula-Beulah would be on the phone, laughing with someone, and beckon me over. She would hug me, tickle me, get me laughing, and then, still laughing, go upside my head hard enough to knock me down. Then she would tickle me with her bare feet until we were both laughing again.

“Eulah-Beulah was prone to farts–the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. ‘Pow!’ she’d cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marshgas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing.  Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow! The Village Voice holds few terrors.” King, Stephen, On Writing, pgs. 19-21

Yesterday, I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and I have been reeling from the re-realization of why I don’t read books that successful writers have written. Today, I have been moping around–feeling that I could never be as witty and as perfectly on-target as Anne Lamott’s writing is. This morning, I saw the topic for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, but I was simply numb–“Radical”–I had nothing to say that was radical.

But Anne Lamott had blinded me with some radically real  reasons not to write, and that has been my focus until now:.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

Today, I stumbled through my morning Story Hour, and I came home and tried to write again. I still had nothing to say. So I simply took a nap. When I awoke, I was  thinking about the first time that I tasted a cream cheese croissant, and I had to acknowledge that this was a radical thought. The occasion had occurred over thirty years ago, and I have really not thought about the event since that time.

My first cream cheese croissant was hot, and the cream cheese was oozy, and the crust was flaky, and the first bite sizzled on my tongue. It was like a drop of dew on a hot, parched pavement. Although it sounds cliché, the crust and the cheese melted in my mouth, and afterward, the nectar dripped down my throat. That simple cheese croissant had changed my perspective on desserts, and I love desserts. That was a radical experience.

I had grown up in rural America, where chocolate cake and pumpkin pie were about as rich as the sweets ever got.  But when I was about ten-years-old, however, my family went to a town that was forty miles away, and we bought a big bag of fresh doughnuts–one of every flavor and  many of several flavors. That experience raised my bar, where treats were concerned. But when I ate my first cheese croissant, the bar was lifted even higher.

The croissants that I buy now are no match for the ones that my friend and I bought in Jackson, Mississippi. The ones that I buy now are a little too much like Little Debbie cakes. There is something fake and unflaky and stiff and cold and slimy about them; and now that I have tasted the real thing, I know how to judge what is good and what is just a wannabe.

After my nap and my visions of cream cheese croissants, I felt slightly renewed. Maybe I would read ONE more book that was written by a famous writer. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and a couple of pages into the text, I read about Eulah-Beulah. Now, that was a radical read for me. You have to understand that I am 66-years-old, and I grew up in the Deep South. I don’t say the word “f-a-r-t,” and if children in my school room said “b-u-t-t,” I made them miss recess. But I had to admit that there was something real about the way that King had described Eulah-Beulah. I decided that I needed to make a notation of Stephen King’s excellent character study of his babysitter, and I began to type the text into a blog post. When my Grammarly Spell Check questioned whether the word “farts” was really supposed to be “parts,” I laughed until my sides hurt.

farts-parts

lamott-bird-by-bird

Clearly, Grammarly and I need to get a life–or perhaps we simply needed to have something radical happen–something fresh that would change the ways that we have been taught to see. I remembered that Anne Lamott DID say a few good things about writing, too. I timidly opened Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, and like the Phoenix, rising from her ashes, I sprang upward and scrawled this post–bird  by bird.

©Jacki Kellum September 13, 2016

I’m ready for another day.

Radical

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird – Humorous but Penetratingly Honest Advise for Writers

Before the last year, I have avoided writing, and because of that, I have avoided reading many of the books that everyone was telling me that I should read–books that would encourage me to write. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is one of those books. Anne Lamott has a sharp wit, and her book Bird by Bird is an enjoyable read. Her assessment of the challenges and the rewards of writing is penetratingly honest. In the introduction to Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott allows us to see her as a survivor of her own childhood gawkiness, and we begin to understand that writing became Lamott’s tool for survival. No different than the rest of us, however, she had to learn to deal with the reality that writing can be an arduous task.

“… we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment; that at some point we had to actually sit down and write.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

anne-lamott-2013-cropped

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

Lamott continues by describing her gawkiness:

“I went to the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny…..first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Amazon.com Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

“Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.”
 From Publishers Weekly Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
“Lamott’s ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she’s even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing’s rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former “Leona Helmsley of jealousy,” she’s come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer’s block by living “as if I am dying.” She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ‘to have written your version is an honorable thing’ “
“But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual writing–turns out to be the best part. …The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxvi.
 Lamott describes the sensation that she had, as a child, when she first saw her poem in print:
“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore ou exist. Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal–a spiny blenny, for instance–from inside your cave.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Other Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

Lamott shares what she tells her students about what they might expect from the act of writing:

“I tell them they’ll want to be really good right off, and they may not be, but they might be good someday if they just keep the faith and keep practicing. And they may even go from wanting to have written something to just wanting to be writing, wanting to be working on something…because writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together. When they are working on their books or stories, their heads will spin with ideas and invention. They’ll see the world through new eyes. Everything they see and hear and learn will become grist for the mill….They will have days at the desk of frantic boredom, of angry hopelessness, of wanting to quit forever, and there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting [p. xxix] published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

“But I also tell them that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other times. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that tthey are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. ” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxxi.

Chapter One: Getting Started

“…writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 3.

“Start with your childhood….Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 4.

“Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?…

“Scratch around for details…those terrible petaled swim caps, the mean’s awful trunks….Write about the somen’s curlers with the bristles inside….Brownie uniforms….Christmas when you were ten, and how it made you feel inside.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 5.

“Remember that  you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, ‘We told you not to tell.’ But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”

“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”

“You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 6-7.

“And so if one of your hear’s deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.

“And what are those reasons again? my students ask.

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life–wonderful, lyrical language….And quality of attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 14-15.

 Chapter Two: Short Assignments

“Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history….But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk….And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I;m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, it to stop. First I try to breathe, because I’m either sitting there panting like a lap dog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. …and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

“It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. …

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 16-18.
“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise….We are just going to take this bird by bird.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 20.

Chapter Three: Shitty First Drafts

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 21-22.

Chapter Four: Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

“Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force….But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 28-29.

“They [our psychic muscles]cramp around our wounds–the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both–to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again,….Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. …They keep us moving and writing in tight , worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from    life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 29-30.
“Perfectionism…will only drive you mad. …
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 30-31.

Chapter Seven: Character

 “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad tings happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 45.

 Set Design

“You want to know its feel, its temperature, its colors….Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in your rooms, how much light we need–how many light bulbs, candles, skylights we have–and in how we keep things lit your can see how we try to comfort ourselves….
” ‘For instance, let’s start with the living room. Can you describe a really lovely living room in as much detail as possible?’ And then you can ask what smells your friend remembers, in the living room and kitchen, and what the light was like, and what various rooms sounded like or what their silences felt like. Or, by the same token, you can ask someone who grew up in poverty to give you an exact description of his or her house, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the couch in the backyard.
“Years ago, I was working on a novel that involved a woman who gardened, who in fact loved to garden….

“I love to see people in gardens, I love the meditation of sitting alone in gardens, I love all the metaphors that garden are.“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river. Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known. But they only work if they resonate in the heart of the writer. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 74-79.

Plot Treatment

“My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well. I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 85.

Looking Around

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on….Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese…Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein….

“The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 97-98.

“Obviously, it’s harder by far to look at yourself this same sense of compassionate detachment. Practice helps….Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 99.

Broccoli

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself…Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

“Sometimes intuition needs coaxing, because intuition is a little shy. But if you try to crowd it, intuition often wafts up from the soul or subconscious, and then becomes a tiny fitful little flame. It will be blown out by too much compulsion and manic attention, but will burn quietly when watched with gentle concentration.

“So try to calm down, get quiet, breathe, and listen. Squint at the screen in your head, and if you look, you will see what you are searching for….If you stop trying to control your mind so much, you’ll have intuitive hunches about what this or that character is all about. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 110-113.

Jealousy

“…if you want to know how God feels about money, look at whom she gives it to.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 128.

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material. Sometimes you’ll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be on one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene…or you’ll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn’t just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight ou of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts , and so clear they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 136.

Writing Groups

“When you’re feeling low, you don’t want anyone even to joke that you may be in some kind of astrological strike zone where you’ll be for the next seven years. On a bad day you also don’t need a lot of advice. You just need a little empathy and affirmation. You need to feel once again that other people have confidence in you. The members of your writing group can often  offer just that.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 157.

“There are four people…who have now been meeting as a group for four years. …

“They’ve  gone from being four tense, slightly conceited, lonely people who wanted to write to one of those weird little families we fashion out of whoever’s around us. They’re very tender with one another. They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”   Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 158-59.

Finding Your Voice

“…all of the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with–including myself–have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness….It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home. …

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 200-01.

Giving

“…it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard. Others=wise I am a wired little rodent squirreling things away, hoarding and worrying about supply. …

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 202-03.

The Last Class

“Write about your childhoods….Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understanding your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and insight and compassion.

“Becoming a writer i about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 225-26.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 231.

“The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead….But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes…

“In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, ‘This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.’ And the niche may be small and dark, but at least you will finally know what you are doing….you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along–your wounds. This is very painful. It stops a lot of people early on who didn’t get into this for the pain. They got into it for the money and the fame. So they either quit, or they resort to a type of writing that is sort of like candy making.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 234-35.

” ‘So why does our writing matter, again?’ they ask.

“Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the herart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 237.

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