March 22, 2010
My Kindle just celebrated her first birthday. She’s all grown up with nearly a hundred books in her library, several read and stacked away in the archive. Oh how she loves books. I downloaded three in one night as a present for her. She was pleased and so was I.
We have established a solid relationship, close to a symbiotic tie, I’d say. In fact, so coupled are we, that I sometimes need “space.” Much to her dismay, I’ll read a book from my still over-tall 3D TBR stack. Then I’ll return to her. She never berates or judges, complains that she has missed me, or that I have neglected her. How fortunate I am. And how guilty I feel when I shut her out for a few days. I didn’t tell her, for example, about the sensory deprivation I’ve been feeling of late or my trip to Barnes & Noble last week. It was her birthday; I didn’t want her to be upset. I felt guilty and disloyal. I wandered the store without a clear purpose. No, not true. I did have a purpose. One of the birthday presents I’d downloaded was Marilynne Robinson’s “Home.” The prose is poetic so I wanted to slow down. This is a bit hard for me to do on my Kindle. I don’t know why.
And I missed the paper, the smell of the paper, the artwork on the cover, the turn of the page. I rushed to Barnes & Noble like an addict to her dealer, an alcoholic to her bar. I picked up the book and bought it. Ecstasy.
So now I have the book in two places: on the Kindle and in my hand. Please, Kindle, forgive me. And Happy Birthday.
March 12, 2010
I ran into a former student at the gym yesterday. I asked him about his trip, remembering he was going to London when the class was over last term. But he corrected me and said he had had two trips: one to London, one to the Galapagos. He’s taking a memoir class this term because he likes to try different teachers, but he wanted me to know, “nothing personal, you were good.” Much as I appreciated the compliment, I knew it wasn’t personal and didn’t take it personally. Then I had a strange thought, more like a flash of observation: “He’s 80 if he’s a day and he has all the time in the world.”
Most of the students who take my workshops are young, a few are middle-aged, a few are what we call “seniors.” The mix is important for many reasons: the youngsters provide energy and drive, the oldsters unhurried wisdom and wry humor. It’s the unhurried part I’m thinking about after my encounter at the gym yesterday as so many of my (younger) students are in a hurry to get unfinished, underdeveloped copy into the marketplace. I include myself, not that I am younger, but I am a professional trying to make a living, in a hurry to get projects moving. To make the writing better, stronger and deeper, however, I know that I have to slow down. For me, that means getting off the computer and working in long hand or spending a few thoughtful days refueling and not writing much at all except in my journals and notebooks. All with pen in hand, slowly, slowly.
I remember working on a revision of a story in a hotel room in Ann Arbor, Michigan some years ago. My business there was finished—I was taking my daughter on the college tour. I had wanted to get back to New York before the weekend, but I couldn’t change our flight without a steep penalty, so we decided to stay. My daughter had homework to do and I had the manuscript of a short story in development. I didn’t have a laptop with me, just the manuscript, so I hunkered down, took walks, sat in cafes, walked again, roamed in bookstores, walked with my daughter, had long talks with my daughter. It was almost like a retreat. We were both completely slowed down and so relaxed we got a lot done.
The story, “My Ellipsis,” was one of the shortest and best I’ve ever written, every word, every sentence considered. It got published quickly.