10.08.2004

I have too many books. Despite having a wall of bookshelves (full), they still tend to pile up and continue their steady creep along the margins of my very small, very organized living space. There are little piles by the window, next to my bed - Get Your War On, Never Mind the Pollaks, Serious Girls, Cakes and Ale - and at the end of it - Underground Interiors, Rent Girl, The Oxford American Reader, a Michelin Guide to Paris from the early '60s that I found on the giveaway shelf in the laundry room of my building. Even though they seem to multiply and create more mess than the cool order of their relentlessly square shapes would suggest, I never get rid of books anymore, because in the past couple of years I've always regretted it.

One of the books I have had for a while and never looked at seriously until today is Colette's The Vagabond. I threw it in my bag to read on the subway and I was genuinely amazed by how much the story moved me and how modern her writing feels even today. The book is about a women who turns away love to retain her independence, although I haven't gotten that far yet. What I really enjoyed is the protaganist's description of the writing process:
To write, to be able to write, what does it mean? It means spending long hours dreaming before a white page, scribbling unconsiously, letting your pen play round a blot of ink and nibble at a half-formed word, scratching it, making it bristle with darts and adorning it with antennae and paws until it loses all resemblance to a legible word and turns into a fantastic insect or a fluttering creature half butterfly, half fairy.

To write is to sit and stare, hypnotised, at the reflection of the window in the silver ink-stand, to feel the divine fever mounting to one's cheeks and forehead while the hand that writes grows blissfully numb upon the paper. It also means idle hours curled up in the hollow of the divan, and then the orgy of inspiration from which one emerges stupefied and aching all over, but already recompensed and laden with treasures that one unloads slowly on to the virgin page in the little round pool of light under the lamp.

To write is to pour one's innermost self passionately upon the tempting paper, at such frantic speed that sometime's one's hand struggles and rebels, overdriven by the impatient god who guides it -- and to find, next day, in place of the golden bough that bloomed miraculously in that dazzling hour, a withered bramble and a stunted flower.

To write is the joy and torment of the idle. Oh to write! From time to time I feel a need, sharp as thirst in summer, to note and to describe. And then I take up my pen again and attempt the perilous and elusive task of seizing and pinning down, under its flexible double-pointed nib, the many-hued, fugitive, thrilling adjective...the attack does not last long; it is but the itching of an old scar.
I didn't grow up in a household that particularly valued reading for pleasure. And certainly not creative writing. In college, I spent years sharpening my technical writing skills as I wrote term paper after term paper (even a few for Ms. Elizabeth Merrick, who taught my sophomore writing class at Cornell) and memo after memo, but never once did I attempt any sort of venture into imaginative, purely pleasureable, structured but non-business-objective-oriented writing.

I still haven't, years later. I haven't even tried. So when I read that passage from The Vagabond, it got me thinking that not having tried is not much of an excuse for not doing something. Perhaps I will take one of Elizabeth's writing courses. Perhaps I will just make the vulgar leap from reader of excellent, world-class fiction to writer of painfully amateur fiction right away, even at this feverish hour. Or perhaps not.

But first, I think I will take another note from Colette, and quote just one more line, the very next one after the passage I cited above:

"It takes up too much time to write."

And with that, I'm taking Friday off from blogging, and then there's the long weekend-- back probably on Tuesday. Have a lovely weekend.

-Lauren
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