Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I like to read the same kind of writing as the food I like to eat—fresh, clean, crisp, understated, with an unexpected- yet-oh-so-right surprise thrown in here and there. In other words, Southern cooking is just not my thing. The oil, the fat, those poor breaded-and-fried vegetables bereaved of all their health, the sugary-syrupy overflowing ooze—good ole Southern cooking makes my stomach claustrophobic.  I know, sweet southern friends, this may be tragic, but I despise deep-fried foods. Perfectly good meats and vegetables (and all other sorts of things, like butter, that I hear they deep-fry at the state fair) are twisted from all their original wholesomeness . I profoundly feel this tragedy, especially when I remember my mom’s garden. I think those poor deep-fried vegetables are just yearning to go back to their Eden—to being naked and unashamed-- but the Cherubim of Oil and Breading guards the way back.

Writing is the same way. Who hasn’t felt like they would explode in impatience if they had to read yet another redundant, melodramatic sentence that fried the life out of perfectly good words? Of course, I have no room to talk. There are plenty of times where I am attempting to express the weight of something I’ve learned or felt and it just ends up, so to speak, overdone, mushy, and/or burnt. That’s why this blog is not primarily about what I learn or feel. I start trying too hard to be profound and that inevitably leads to flowery, hyphenated words. I don’t like writing like that. You don’t like reading writing like that. So, we’re all well and pleased now.

To say I admire C.S. Lewis’s writing is a bit of an understatement. In his last interview, he said “The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.”

I long to say exactly what I mean to say—to fit the perfect words into their perfect places, so that a reader could express, “I always felt that to be true, I just never said it.” That’s what I think it is to read good writing.  But, indeed, the writing itself almost seems transparent, for minds can meet, time can be travelled, and new worlds can be seen through those perfectly chosen words.

But here I go, speaking of something too great and too marvelous for me. Soon, you’ll start feeling your shoes sticking with my over-sweet, syrupy sentiment. I’ll stop now. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My First Book

The day after I was born, my Aunt Kathy gave me my very first book—“A Child’s Treasury of Poems,” edited by Mark Daniel. She inscribed it inside the cover with my name, “4-30-87,” and “Love, Aunt Kathy” in blue, cursive letters. My mom kept it away from me when I was really little, to save it from baby teeth, saliva, and ferocious fingers thinking that page-ripping was a blast. But I think she started to put it into my hands when I was around five. I would hold it reverently. It’s so beautiful—mossy green cover (now well-worn), about an inch think, properly substantial page paper. I would open it and feast my eyes upon the gorgeous illustrations--full-color reproductions of Edwardian and Victorian era oil paintings. Then, I would read each poem or rhyme and savor the feel of the words connected in just the right way. This was my first experience of beauty that I remember.

I still have little torn pieces of lined paper marking my favorite poems. I would go for the longer and more epic ones. I did really like the ones by Christina Georgina Rossetti and I just thought her name was so very lovely. I had a thing for names, too. I snuck my parent’s dog-eared, baby-name book into my room and would hide, looking at the names. I was a weird kid.

Anyway, my mom would also read the poems to us and we memorized a few:

                Whether the weather be fine,
                Or whether the weather be not,
                Whether the weather be cold,
                Or whether the weather be hot.
                We’ll weather the weather
                Whatever the weather,
                Whether we like it or not!

This poem and many many good ones were by this fabulous poet named Anon. We thought he was just great. So many poems/rhymes we just commonly knew, like “Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub” were actually by him! Every time his name would come up, we would wonder wide-eyed at how prolific he was and how famous so many of his poems had become. He probably wrote 60% of the poems in the book.  

Well, in high school, I was thumbing through the book and was reading the little biographies of the poets in the back. I was trying to find Mr. Anon, but lo! He was not in alphabetical order. I read through all the biographies and got to the end: “A Brief Note on Some of the Anonymous Verses.” After ruminating on this for a while, I blushed, laughed, and ran to go tell my mom. You know, they really should have put a period on “Anon.” to show that it was an abbreviation. At least, as far as I know, we never shared that he/she was our favorite poet. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

It Started Young With Me

I think I read the entire children’s section at the Greene County Library. I would scour the shelves of both the picture book and the chapter book areas to find something new. I would bring my big maroon bag with the Iron-On Noah’s Ark appliqué that my Aunt Sara gave me and shove it so full that the corners of books made poor Noah quickly peel away. “Homeschoolers,” the librarians might have sighed whenever they saw my family coming in at 9am, but I never understood why so many librarians were glum. They got to continually browse books while they scanned them. “What a job,” I thought. I still think, actually.

So it started young with me. I was reading three or four Boxcar Children books a day around seven. My hunger only became greater as I grew older and I took it very seriously. Nevertheless, at that point, I would not call my condition “Over-Reading" because I put out a fair amount of original writing. I still possess some classic poems from that period. One noteworthy ballad tells of a romance between two English Shepherd owners who fall in love, get married, and die. And of course, the dogs loyally guard the graves-- quite tear-jerking and original.

Homeschooling provided ample time for my voluminous book consumption and subsequent day-dreaming based on whatever I read. I would go out to our swing on the big walnut tree overlooking the pond and dream and dream (and then hide whenever a car came down the lane--I don’t know why). The book came in and then it went out, as it should be—just like proper digestion.

But, as you might have guessed, I have a confession to make. In the past years, I have become a book glutton. Indeed, I have a severe case of literary obesity. I take in and take in and take in, but it never goes anywhere. I have been stuck in excuses and self-justification, but I am done. I don’t care whether or not I am the best writer or whether my writing shames my literary heroes (well, I do care, really), or whether I really am wasting cyberspace. Words have filled me up beyond my needed vocabularic limit and are now pushing out. I have engorged myself on sweet prose. I need to exercise, Jillian Michael’s style. In other words, I desperately need to write.

So, here I am. I am going to write about books. I am going to write down the thoughts which are propelled by those books. I am going to get creatively "shredded."