Halldor Laxness’s Independent People, an epic tale of a 19th-Century Icelandic sheep farmer, offers ruminations across the spectrum:
On birth: It’s marvelous, you know, when you come to think of it: there you have a new body and a new soul suddenly making an appearance, and where do they come from and why are they always coming? (127) On childhood: Those were good days. They were serene days and undemonstrative, like the best day in one’s life; the boy never forgot them. Nothing happens; one simply lives and breathes and wishes for nothing more, and nothing more. (188)
On the toils of life: No wonder that the soul is cheerless, that hope is small in people’s hearts, that there is little comfort in lying awake at night. Even the most beautiful memories lose their luster like a shining silver coin that collects verdigris because it has been lost. And, finally, on sin: Sin is God’s most precious gift. (325)
My sister, at 13, was the first of my siblings to be published with her drawing of a heap smiley faces, entitled My Father is Bowl of Happiness in Teen Magazine. It took me another few years to see my name in print with a letter to the editor in Marvel Team-Up Comics, Featuring Spiderman. I critiqued an issue in which an orphan started a fire by impulsively yanking a lamp plug from the wall. There was no reason for the orphan to do this, and there was no justification for a fire to start just because he did. On top of the weak characterization and lousy plot development, the graphics of this issue were also particularly weak.
This was also my first experience with an editor who slashed my 300-word missive to one terse line: “Marvel Team-Up is the worst comic I have ever read.” (My outrage with this guy has yet to dim.)
Writing retreats, like writing conferences, are con jobs. If you want to write, then you should write. And here’s how you can retreat yourself:
a. Find an isolated place – hopefully a key setting in your book – and go there. b. Give yourself time, more than you think you might need, at least 10 days.
c. Arrive and unwind. Don’t worry about writing on the first day. d. Create a routine on your first full day – and allow yourself to break it.
e. Never get too down (or up) on your work. Just keep writing. A few words is enough.
f. Be active. You have to get out and circulate your fluids.g. Entertain yourself. Good books are the best, films too. (Just remember that connections – phones, internet, TV – are absolutely vorboten.)
h. Plan the next one.
It is all very well while there are those who remember and mourn the dead, but soon they too pass away; the descendants only know of him by hearsay, so they are hardly likely to grieve over his death. Finally, all ceremonies for him cease; no one any longer knows who he was or even his name, and only the grasses of each passing spring grow there to move the sensitive to pity; at length even the graveyard pine that sobbed in stormy winds is cut for firewood before its thousand years are up, the ancient mound is leveled by the plough, and the place becomes a field. The last trace of the grave itself has finally disappeared. It is sad to think of.
(From Kenko’s A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Tree)
Just back from a one-month writing stint during which I shed, albeit briefly, my log-in addiction, I was able to find some focus in the narrative. No Leafs. No Dead. No Bachelor.
My days became balanced and quiet, my dreams vivid. I wrote and read and hiked and wrote and read. It was as good as it gets.
Needless to say, I have returned and been disappointed in virtually every corner: The Leafs traded Kessel, The Grateful Dead devolved into something called The Dead and Company and The Bachelor concluded with a Nazi-like denigration of homosexuality. And I’m blogging about it again!
I spent much of July writing in a room overlooking Disko Bay, in Ilulissat, Greenland. There was an iceberg that looked a little like a church parked just fifty feet off my deck. It wasn’t like the other icebergs, breaking and rolling and drifting past, but a magical constant, no doubt beached out.
It sat as I wrote, reflecting back, through the morning and afternoon light and into the reddish glow of the night. And there again the next day, stoic. And then it wasn’t. It had collapsed, been divided, exposing its underbelly, as it turned itself inside out and drifted away back to the depths, leaving me with an emptiness of blue.