on writing, and a book review

posted on: February 22, 2011


I haven't written in a while. I don't just mean here on my blog, but in general for life. I haven't forgotten or decided not to anymore, but I haven't known what to write. I wouldn't call it writer's block really--I still feel inspired, urged, to write. But when I have stared at blank screens and waved blue pens over notebooks, I haven't liked what has come out. I don't recognize it.

I have decided that when I write, I want to be honest. I want to admit my challenges, my weaknesses, my failures, my profanities. I want to create only images that exist, and enunciate feelings that I more than half-feel. I want the things I write to reflect my whole self, no part left out. I want my writing to be as real as I feel I am. I want my words to be fresh. I want my ideas to be distinguished.

A big part of this realization happened when I read Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. This is a novel written by a poet, which, I am now convinced, is the best kind of novel. The book is about Jakob, a Polish child that barely escapes Nazi death and hides himself in the bogs near his home. He is discovered and saved by Athos, a Greek geologist. Athos swindles Jakob out of war-destroyed Poland, raising him in Greece and teaching him about the earth, history, poetry, people, and love. The book is about Jakob struggling as the remnant of his murdered family, and his discovery of new familial and romantic relationships. Throughout, Jakob finds great comfort and peace in writing his experiences.

A few of my favorite passages:

"To share a hiding place, physical or psychological, is as intimate as love."

"All the years I felt Bella entreating me, filled with her loneliness, I was mistaken. I have misunderstood her signals. Like other ghosts, she whispers; not for me to join her, but so that, when I'm close enough, she can push me back into the world."

"I became obsessed by the palpable edge of sound. The moment when language at last surrenders to what it's describing: the subtlest differentials of lights of temperature or sorrow. I'm a kabbalist only in that I believe in the power of incantation. A poem is as neural as love; the rut of rhythm that veers the mind."

"Every recorded event is a brick of potential, or precedent, thrown into the future. Eventually the idea will hit someone in the back of the head. This is the duplicity of history: an idea recorded will become an idea resurrected. Out of fertile ground, the compost of history."

"She sat at the small, round, linen-covered tables at the Royal York and seductively dangled her leftist ideas like high heels....Alex shocked me, just as she intended. She shrugged off expectation with language; her hardness was a form of swearing. She swaggered the delicious phrase 'following a skirt' and I ached with tenderness for all the frustrated innocence in her extravagant tongue."

"When a man dies, his secrets bond like crystals, like frost on a window. His last breath obscures the glass."

"I am deafened by the buzzing drone of Michaela's body, the power lines of blood, blue threads under her skin. Cables of tendons; the forests of bones in her wrists and feet....How beautiful the blood's pull towards trust, the warm weight of the sleeper entering her orbit, pulling her towards me, fragrant, heavy and still as apples in a bowl. Not the stillness of something broken, but of rest."

Within the first twenty pages of this novel, I was weeping from the beautiful honesty of Anne Michael's language and the vivid reality of fictional Jakob's situation. Even as I read, I knew these words would mean a lot to me always. They make me need to write. They inspire me to capture life as it is. Because now, I believe that even terror can be beautiful when written honestly. I'll read this book over and over. I have never read love so clearly. The story is heartbreaking, but hopeful--and I like those kinds of words. I hope to make my own like that too, someday.



[Image: Fugitive Pieces, the film, is also brilliant.]

4 thought{s}:

  1. i am going to read it. it sounds beautiful. and if you loved it so much, i want to love it too.
    love you.

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  2. i love this so much. so so so so so so so so so much. you are beautiful on the inside and out (and i can say that now! :) i love what you said and how you said this -- that's why i love your blog. you write about things that really matter to you, and not just to fill space.

    ps. my dad and your dad were in texas together this weekend for a conference!! haha so funny!

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  3. Probably going to buy this today.

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  4. Ugh. This book affected me in the same way--I wrote like half of it down in my notebook. So, so, so, so fantastic.

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