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Monday, July 01, 2013

More reading, more writing--

Think of someone like Frederick Douglass, who brought himself up out of slavery by sneaking out and teaching himself to read. Books weren’t some idle pursuit or pastime to him, they were survival itself. And despite this dire situation, he managed to read and, as the writer Thomas Sowell once put it, “educate himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today’s expensively under-educated generation.” --Ryan Holiday, "How To Read More--a Lot More" (hat tip to Prufrock)
Phoenicia Publishing, 2012
This little article answers a lot of questions people ask about reading--how to make reading an integral part of your life, how and why to spend money on reading (although he misses the thought that buying mid-list books supports the writers you care about, since new contracts depend on prior sales these days), and the purpose of reading. This last is a thing I see the government trying to explain and justify, often poorly. Holiday does a better, more convincing job than most.

The "trick" that people expect to underlie Holiday's extensive reading reminds me of what people say about writing. People often ask me about quantity when it comes to writing. It's probably the most frequent question I hear. "How do you get so much done?" It usually seems like a silly issue to me because writing is not in the least about quantity. For one rather lurid example, the young Chidiock Tichbourne--wonderful name--is remembered for a single lovely poem, written just before he was eviscerated, hanged, and drawn and quartered. Two of his other poems survive. Meanwhile, poets who wrote hundreds or thousands of pages have vanished into oblivion, with none of their words remaining for later times.

For once, though, I'll take the question seriously.

On the inside, what I accomplish doesn't feel like so much, particularly of late when I had all my usual duties plus serving as a judge for a national award and having the surprise of two adult children returning to the nest for a year. As a member of a busy family with five members, I decided to let go all thought of writing a novel; I didn't want to feel resentful about any increased work that would prevent daily writing. In fact, I decided that I would only write poetry, and not a long, sustained poem like Thaliad but poems under three pages. Still, on some days I am drowning in errands and old-house repair and drudgery, and my three children have needs that must be addressed. It seems impossible to be a writer then.

UK: Stanza Press, 2012
But I am really never away from the act of writing; I'm always looking, sifting, or dreaming, even while I do something mundane--while I fold clothes or mop or weed my unruly garden. (Bishop's weed is my green Yankee nemesis!) It's like the famous Pauline injunction to "Pray without ceasing." On the surface it's hyperbole, surely; an impossible call. But it demands a determination not to give up. With writing, gumption and persistence are essential. That is, even if you are over-worked and feel you have little time, it's about being attentive, listening and looking, open to little motes of possibility, and conscious of what's in and beyond the moment. For me, that's the way to fruitfulness. It's the path to delight, and delight makes us hungry to find out more of the same.

It's not so very different from Holiday's advice to readers...


  1. Aye aye to the busyness of family life and home! You do accomplish a lot of excellent writing, Marly, plus daily blogging!

    "it's about being attentive, listening, open to little motes of possibility, and conscious of what's in and beyond the moment. For me, that's the way to fruitfulness. It's the path to delight, and delight makes us hungry to find out more of the same."

    That's it for me, except I'd replace 'listening' with 'looking closely'.

  2. Oh, all the senses are important... I should add looking, as we're visual sorts, even we who happen to be writers.

    I'l hoping life will be less busy by October, when I hope to have some pleasant swaths of fiction-making time. I may be deluded, though.

    Luck with your Google/website problem, Marja-Leena!

  3. I'm sure it's more to do with the massive quantity of GOOD writing that amazes people (myself included, Marly). I think that writing is an instrument that you are so adept at that you can simply 'play your thoughts' as one would play a violin.
    It is that that is so remarkable.

  4. Paul, you are an artist who delights in many realms. I now re-discover your role as The Artist of Compliments.

    Thank you.

  5. Yes, yes, pockets of time, there will always be those no matter what else is going on [I too have a busy household, seven to be fed and watered including myself]. I never stir a pot without turning a page simultaneously! :) Lovely post.

  6. Hi Edith--

    Seven humans? We could toss several cats, a dog, and fish into our family, I suppose!

    I don't know your blog but shall come peek later this week. Today I am busy with loans and other unpleasant matters.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.