Anne Lamott on writing…

“This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious. Try walking around with a child who’s going, “Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!” And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, “Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!” I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world–present and in awe.”
— Anne Lamott

I don’t know.

Sometimes “I don’t know” is me at my most intelligent. What’s the capitol of Uzbekistan? I don’t know. Where are my car keys? I don’t know. What direction should I go? Where is God? Why?

I hate not knowing. I would like to be Lucy with her nickel-a-proverb psychiatric business, always with the answers. But sometimes I am doomed to uncertainty, waiting, ignorance — uncomfortable, uneasy, confused. Hate it!

Unknowing is an empty place. And empty is good; embracing the empty is hard. The temptation is to cram it full, full of answers, plans, busyness. But my default is to reach for the wrong things to fill it with, and crowd out what just may come if I wait.

This time of year in my hometown, the neighbors break out rows of paper bags to line the streets, as far as the eye can see in any direction. The bags aren’t much to look at in and of themselves — they’re empty, save for a little sand in the bottom. But night falls, and thousands of little candles are lit, one in each bag (that’s not a fire hazard). Empty becomes light. Empty becomes beauty. And suddenly, empty is full.

So where will I be in a year? I don’t know. But maybe I don’t need to figure it out.

Souped-up Slush Pile

Here’s a quick tutorial on the publishing industry for those of you who’ve never had a compulsion to stick pins in your pupils.

Step One: Pour weeks, months, years into heartbreaking work of staggering genius (thanks, Dave Eggers)
Step Two: Submit baby to publisher to be kicked back with rude note — get an agent!
Step Three: Submit baby to agent to be spat upon and returned with rude note — get publishing creds!
Step Four: Locate sharp object. Rinse and repeat.

After a few rounds of this, most authors relocate to SriLanka or thereabouts for a spiritual experience, rise above their publishing aspirations, and write a few dozen articles about rejecting their desires. Then they try again and are rewarded with nicer rejection letters due to their ascetic publishing credentials.

Aha! But there is another way. I am trying to decide if it releases you from this circle of purgatory or merely extends the process with the illusion of happy co-travelers. It is called authononmy, and is HarperCollins’ answer to the slush pile. Instead of submitting and waiting, waiting, waiting for rejection, you can upload your book, dialog with other writers, and watch it slowly rise to the top, at which point HarperCollins will perform the obligatory rejection publicly and with many kind words to ease the sting of defeat. For your writer types, you can check it out here:
Don’t forget to bring sharp objects.

The Habit of Seeing

Annie Dillard has mastered it.  To see — to see closely and to see expansively — to see the habits of crickets and the wide-wheeling stars, behind them both wisdom, and grace, and fearful purpose.  And there are those who see people — see the quirks and the guiding passions, behind them the yearning for God or power.  And there are those who see God, who see a bigger story, who see angels and demons, light and dark, truth and lies.

I want to see, to see it all.  I want to understand.  Joy comes from understanding, said Solomon. Understanding — the ability to embrace the particular set of dominoes you’re dealt, to nurture that overflow of faith, patience.  Awe.  And gratitude, not only for the future, but for the intricate, beautiful, now.

Even the ability to see swallows, aspen, bear tracks, cumulus clouds, contribute to understanding this human condition, contribute to joy.  To perceive the incredible complexity of life in an acre of Colorado forest is to know how vast, how incomprehensible, is the universe, how staggering the intellect of the one who sustains it.

I love mystery.  I love unanswered questions, paradox, mind-boggling enormity or microscopic detail, and even more, vast love, the purpose behind the mad tragedies of the world.  Funny, the mystery section of the bookstore isn’t usually regarded as the place to head for great literature, but somehow I think the best mystery writers, in the pages of a good whodunit, tap into that greater mystery of the universe:  what is it that motivates the human heart?  And how, set next to evil, can there be light? 

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