Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekly Quotes Part 41 (with a bonus Satia Story)

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment.  Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it on the bad stack.  Why do you like it so much?”  The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.” (6)

Often (probably too often) this is how I feel about my own writing. I have to “climb a mountain to get it” and I lack the necessary objectivity to tell whether it is good or not. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to tell a story but I do not know how to fix it.  How does one learn to tell a story?  By telling them, I suppose.  But after thirty years of writing, I suppose it’s time to wonder if I’m not just shoving a crappy landscape into my portfolio hoping that this time the old man will like it.

And there were the fireworks, far away.  It was the Fourth of July. I had forgotten.  . . .  It was the Fourth of July, and I had forgotten all of wide space and all of historical time.  I opened the blinds a crack like eyelids, and it all came exploding in on me at once—oh yes, the world. (31)

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  (32)

There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by. (32)

Thoreau said that his firewood warmed him twice—because he labored to cut his own. Mine froze me twice, for the same reason.  (42)

This amuses me, along with other sardonic observations Dillard makes throughout this book.  Unlike Holy the Firm, I feel I could like the author who wrote this book and would want to sit at her feet an learn. Especially, perhaps, because she can look at the previously published book and recognize all of the weaknesses in it which I found so off-putting (and practically unforgivable).

Why people want to be writers I will never know, unless it is that their lives lack a material footing.  (46)

You know, that’s about as good a reason as I’ve ever heard for wanting to be a writer, truth be told.  I can’t think of a better one.

He must be sufficiently excited to rouse himself to the task at hand, and not so excited he cannot sit down to it.  He must have fait sufficient to impel and renew the work, yet not so much faith he fancies he is writing well when he is not.  (46)

There is such a fine line between the two, enthusiasm for the work but not so terribly excited that one can’t recognize an ugly baby after it’s been birthed.  My problem is that I look at what I’ve done and am typically horrified by what I see. 

Which sort of brings me to a funny Satia story from my past.   I was about 3-years-old and my mother had answered many of my endless questions, including the specifics about procreation and sex.  The experts say that when a child first asks where babies come from you should answer with a more vague than specific answer so, usually, the parent says, “The baby grows inside a woman’s body until it is ready to come out.”  And this is enough for the child, who blissfully walks away with that answer.  Later, the same child comes back and asks for a little more clarification.  Where does the baby grow?  How does the baby get inside the mommy? 

My poor mother.  She answered me with the expected vagueness and apparently I didn’t let it go.  I was relentless (dare I say “insatiable”?) in my need to know more and by the time I was three I knew all about a man’s penis and sperm and the egg that grows inside a woman’s womb until ready to come through the vaginal cavity and out into the world.

Anyway, one day we were on the bus and my mother towards the front of the bus when this couple came on.  My mother describes them as huge, grotesquely overweight.  The woman was carrying a quite large, chubby baby in her arms and I blurted out, loud enough for the entire bus to hear, “Do you mean to tell me that that baby came out of that woman’s vagina?”

The people, including the bus driver, laughed and the couple looked oblivious as they smiled.  My horrified mother assumed then and says now that she can only hope that they didn’t speak English because she can’t imagine they would have been so bemused otherwise.
The Moral of This Story  Parents and parents-to-be, you have been duly warned.  Answering your children’s questions, even if you try to keep your responses vague, can lead to trouble if your child is peculiarly precocious.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being peculiar or precocious.  However, these things often do come with a price and public embarrassment is a rather small one.
But all of this I share by way of returning to my original response to the quote because there are times when that same dismay is felt by me as I read something I’ve written.  "You mean to tell me that that writing came out of me?" 

There are times when I would rather give birth to another baby than try to figure out whether what I wrote is worth revising or not.  After all, I know I can give birth to beautiful babies.  I’ve done thrice before, without an epidural.  

Never dress to impress others:  dress to express your authentic sense of style.  (October 10)

When we feel at ease with ourselves, we feel at ease in the world.  (October 10)

This is true of so many other things. When we are content with ourselves, we are content in the world. When we are happy with ourselves, we are happy in the world.  When we are miserable with ourselves, we feel miserable in the world.  Of course, many spiritual paths talk about this, about how we "create" the world because the world reflects back what we ourselves hold within.  I don't think that most of the ways these teachings are being explained in some more contemporary spiritual teachings holds water, but it is hard to argue with the truth that what we feel about ourselves has a deep effect on how we view the world.

[S]tart letting everyone else be good enough just as they are.  (October 7)

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