Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Asking for Forgiveness

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, we are to ask others for forgiveness for offenses committed in the past year. “If we cannot forgive others,” said the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, “how can we expect G-d to forgive us?”

But it occurred to me that the effort not to be offensive can lead to not saying much and not doing much. I have been guiltier of that than of doing the wrong thing. Not only this last year, but most of my life.

The down side of only saying nice things is that sooner or later no one can take what you say as having any weight. No writer wants to end their days having said the equivalent of noting.

So rather than asking for your forgiveness for what I may have said or done that caused offense, I ask for forgiveness for all I should have done, could have done, but didn’t.

The times I should have stepped in to help.

The times I should have spoken up, even if some people wouldn’t like it.

The times I could have stepped out of my comfort zone, but I hid in my safe space instead.

Please forgive me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Quotations as Inspiration

I often use quotations when I sit down to write on this blog. It’s a propeller for me, and a kick-starter for the post I’m about to write. Then I realize they said it best, and leave the quotation in.

I’ve heard variations on the notion that quotations are inspiration for the uninspired. I bow my head and say with uncharacteristic humility- I need every help I can get. Doing anything in a disciplined way means that at times I’m working when uninspired.

Once I start, the well begins to yield- first a drop and then a bucketful. But it’s that ‘how to get started’ thing, combined with the commitment I made to self, that requires aides.

How do you do it? How do you start to clean a house that needs so much you don’t know where to start? By starting. How do you get that ‘starting’ going?

Hopefully you avoid the pharmaceutical solutions. My only vice there is caffeine. A good cup of tea is the start of everything. If the situation is dire, Mr. Coffee is called in.

My second helper is a sort of parental inner voice that says, “You may NOT do [whatever you feel like] until you get that done.” That voice is not as scary as it is convincing.

But sometimes I need more convincing than other times. That’s when quotations come in.

Life itself is a quotation.” ~Jorge Luis Borges

I’ll be pondering that one^ for a while.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy *Jewish* New Year

Wishing all of us who celebrate Rosh Hashanah*, the beginning of a Jewish New Year, a blessed and fruitful time of healing and fortification. I chose an Israeli card from the early 1960’s-

I like the image because it suggests you go and make your own canvas, while looking at what has been done before.

*And to anyone who wants to come along~~~

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Writer as Reader

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

Joseph Brodsky


The first advice given to would-be writers is to ‘read-read-read.’ Unless we’re James Joyce, we are not reinventing the wheel. There is more to learn from those who came before than any instruction book could offer.

But I discovered a curious thing about the relationship between reading fiction and writing it. At least for me, I must stop reading when I’m about to write a first draft. I need a few days to ‘clear the air’ and calm the other writers’ voices, so mine can emerge.

The practical ramification is that I must alternate between reading and writing. This is easy to do when writing picture story books. It takes a stronger discipline when it comes to tackling longer stories.

My to-be-read pile grows ominously tall in those times. You wouldn’t want to brush against it accidentally, or you may get buried as the precarious stack collapses. My guilt at ‘not reading’ would grow also, but I know what I have to do, in order to do what I do.

Yes, it’s one of these times. I just cleared my pile, or almost. For the next few weeks it’ll have to start growing again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The School of Experience

“Experience is a good school, but the fees are high.”

                                                                                                Henrich Heine

When I started writing with the thought of publication, more than seven years ago, I read something the late (and great) Sid Fleischman said- that his first three years were ‘tuition.’ At the time that seemed such a long time to be writing and making un-publishable stories, and I resolved to have every story count. Whether someone else finds them publishable or even makes an offer to publish, they would nonetheless become part of my writing resume, if only in my own eyes.

Some years later, and with two books strangers can actually purchase, I look back at my early efforts. Not without merit, but also no longer publishable even to my mind.

So I thought about Fleischman’s ‘first three years’ saying, and wondered how long it took me before I wrote well or, ahm, better.

It was about three years.

Oh, and did I mention that Fleischman was also a professional magician? It was both hubris and naiveté to think I can get anywhere faster than Sid Fleischman. But it was also necessary for me to feel that I wasn’t at a rehearsal, that this was the real thing, and every writing moment counted. That’s the way I work.

Maybe there’s a reason university degrees take as long as they do. The school of life can take a lot longer.