essays

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I’ve been reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor in the order she wrote them. I picked up the book because I liked the cover: it’s an illustration of a peacock with elegant black text (I learned from the introduction that O’Connor kept peacocks on her property). O’Connor is a product of the Old South, and you can tell immediately, but I didn’t let that get in my way. Her writing doesn’t feel like it’s trying to escape you, which is exactly what I feel like reading right now. I’m picking up themes of morality and the danger of self-absorption, but mostly I’m just enjoying the unexpected experiences of these interesting characters. I can just pick it up, read a story or two, and put it down.

I wish I could say I’m working on a collection of essays, but I’m really only working on the first one, which for all I know could end up being the only one. I already had an idea for a collection by which each entry features a different moment of happiness, but I’ve been inspired by O’Connor that each entry can have a feeling like the others, but can also stand simply and on its own. When you try to make an idea too big, it’s tough to even get started. I wrote this poem to get the juices flowing for my first essay, which I think I will call “Champagne In The Pfister.”

Champagne in the Pfister

There’s a heat in my heart
Literally, a heat inside my chest
Flashes of the day blast across my head,
But all I can think about is how important this moment is
And I can’t waste it.

Wasabi peas and sesame sticks in a little silver dish
Perched on a low round table
Gold champagne to wash it down
My lipstick leaves a matte stamp on the flute
And i can see a crumb or two stuck in it,
Like dust marring a fresh paint job,
But it didn’t matter

A 3-piece jazz trio played a song about rain,
Maybe it was called rain,
But it made me cry.
Something without words
So i could make up my own words:
Something about how his left hand,
Now decorated with a sliver of silver,
Is the most wonderful thing i’ve ever seen.
And I’ll always have this moment.

Happy Birthday, Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winning author and acclaimed writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, was born on April 30th 1945. In 1974 alone–at 29 years old–she published Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, a book of poetry, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. She has published several nonfiction books, including works of journalism, essay and travelogue, her popular memoir An American Childhood (1987), and Living by Fiction, a work on literary theory, among others. I recently read the essay “Total Eclipse” which was originally published in her collection Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), and was impressed by the way the narrator evolves in so few pages. She is a master of pacing and word choice. Thematically her work has great depth and isn’t exactly fit for beach reading, but I highly recommend sitting down with one of her essays when you have the time to really taste and digest it.

From The Writing Life (1989):
One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.