cures for literary heartbreak

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Look for me behind stacks of books. That's where I'm living lately.

Assembling the content for a traveling multi-day memoir workshop. Preparing to teach the personal essay during a morning/afternoon at a Frenchtown high school. Knitting together ideas for a four-hour Sunday memoir workshop, next weekend, at the Rat (also in Frenchtown; places still available). Conjuring poem-engendering exercises for the fourth and fifth graders of North Philly. Building the syllabus for my next semester of teaching at Penn. Putting more touches onto the Beltran Family Teaching Award event at Penn next spring (featuring Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Margo Rabb, and A.S. King). Re-reading Buzz Bissinger so that I can introduce and then publicly converse with him at the Kelly Writers House this Saturday, for Penn's Homecoming. Talking to Jennie Nash about an online memoir workshop. Writing the talk I'll give this evening to kick off the LOVE event (featuring film students and Philadelphians) at the Ambler theater.

My writing (my novels) sit in a corner over there, where they have sat for most of this year. I'm sunk deep into the pages of other people's work. Their stories, their sentences, their churn: a thrilling habitation.

Every time I feel frustrated by a sense of career stall or perpetual overlook, I remember this: There are writers—truly great writers—who have gone before me, who have written more wisely, who have seen more clearly. I may want to be noticed, I may hope to be seen, I may wish to be important, a priority, first on a list, but honestly? Why waste time worrying all that when there is so much to be learned—about literature, about life—from the writers who have gone before—and ahead—of me.

James Agee. Annie Dillard. Eudora Welty. We could stop right there. Read all they've written. Make the study of them the year we live and it would be enough. It would be time well spent, time spent growing, time during which we learn again that aspiration must, in the end, be contextual. We can't hope to stand on a mountain's top if we don't acknowledge all the boulders and the trees and the ascent and the views that rumble beneath the peak.

My cure for my own sometimes literary heartbreak: Sink deep inside the work of others. Recall what greatness is.


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