Tuesday, July 17, 2007

bird by bird


I have spent the last six weeks in starts and fits both devouring and savoring Anne Lamott’s bird by bird. A librarian friend recommended it to me and I have been studying it carefully.

Lamott’s humor is something to be devoured. I can read 100 pages in a sitting and not know time has passed. The book flows smoothly and almost seems random with her musings, but then the lesson comes. Just as I settle into a real, full belly laugh, a truth as Anne tells it, smacks me across the head.

Those truths are what, in Lamott’s writing, provide the substance to savor. So many times while reading, I discovered that I had put the book down after ingesting an idea and was chewing it over – rolling it from place to place in my brain to pull out ever nuance of wisdom. Sometimes the parts of my brain were arguing with her lesson: it sounds true, feels true, but if it is so true, why don’t I already know it? I guess that makes her a good teacher. We learn the lessons we should already know but do not. Once we learn them, we cannot quite go back to being the person we were before – in her pupils’ case, they cannot be the same writer they were before.

I am comfortable with the informality of writing this blog. It is what it is – an extension of my personality without a definitive style. Sometimes it’s funny; sometimes it’s serious; and sometimes it JUST IS because I feel guilty about not posting in a while, so I put some ideas down.

The entries that “just are” have to be okay too. Lamott regularly refers to the “shitty first draft” (hereafter sfd). She does not exactly say it, but she alludes to the idea that sometimes the sfd is as good as it gets no matter how much revision one does. Some ideas are just not ripe for writing.

Most of the time I go through several drafts before I post (publish). After teaching writing for eight years, the compulsion to revise remains strong though I have accepted that the absolutes of the grammar police are not nearly so absolute. The world does not END if I decide to capitalize a word for emphasis or if, I, chop up a sentence, with commas.

Sometimes I just want to make a point.

Other times, I want to employ great Russian sentences that continue for paragraphs and link otherwise random thoughts into their own grammatical universe which is filled with phrases and dependent clauses that leave an oral reader breathless because I just don’t know when to stop.

I am not consistent.

Because this is a blog, I almost put “LOL” at the end of the last line, but hopefully you gave a little chortle without my prompt.

I have a few more essays about some of the ideas I’ve been savoring from bird by bird. Out of reverence to Ms. Lamott, I want to move them out of sfd into more refined essays. Actually, as I think over the ideas she suggests and my own interpretation of those ideas, I owe her, myself, and you the respect to make my writing clear, meaningful and maybe even approach the quality of humor she shares in her lessons.

I promise not to share any of the sfds with you. However, I cannot guarantee that you won’t find my second or third drafts to be any less shitty.

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