Thursday, January 20, 2011


I just had a remarkable experience.  I read something worth reading.

I mean really worth reading.  Not something that made me smile or gave me a moment’s “hmm” of reflection.  Words that lifted me outside of myself to the point that I could look down upon my corporeal self and reflect.  See.  Understand.

It is a new work from my all-time favorite author, a woman I believe deserves to be in the lexicon of worldwide literary greats.  I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, a new autobiography from Maxine Hong Kingston. 

Opening the cover, feeling the hard, perfectly-proportioned binding in my hands, turning the page, listening as the paper scrapes against itself…this is a holy experience.  Set apart.  I am transported.

Her voice, her form, her effort, her experiences.  Thank you, Chocolate Chip, for taking the time.  Because of you, my time is not wasted.  I love your half-spoken words, the suggestions of images and thoughts that are at once complete without being over-stated.  Oh, that I could write like you.  Did you ever rewrite, I wonder?  How many drafts to achieve such perfection, such poise balanced on the tip of your pen?

I am on the fourth draft of my first novel, a novel I have not finished yet.  I rewrite before I complete.  I need to let the story breathe, I realize, let ink flow.  Poetry, not prose.

Last night I watched an episode from season four of The West Wing.  In it a reporter asks Sam Seaborne (one of the President’s speech writers): “how does it work?”

“How does what work?” replies Sam.

“The State of the Union,” the reporter responds.  “How do you start?”

After an explanation of how they narrow down topics, Sam states: “and then, for the second time, you find yourself standing in a hellhole that makes you want to kill yourself.”

“Why’s that?” the reporter asks.

“Why?” responds Sam.  “Because it’s the blank page.  Because.  It’s the Blank. White. Page.”

Something all writers can understand, I believe, even Ms. Hong Kingston I’m sure.  The tyranny of the page.  It must be defeated.  How?  By letting the story flow.  By being true to yourself.  By ceasing to self-doubt, self-criticize.  By letting you – your voice, your form, your effort, your experiences – be. 

“This well-deep outpouring is not for anything.  Yet we have to put into exact words what we are given to see, hear, know.”  (I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, Kingston, p. 4).

Back to the page now. 

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