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My Aunt bought me a book several years back. She buys me lots of books. She’s a writer too.  So, I buy her lots of books too.  It’s one of our bonds. This particular book that she bought me, The Writing Life, is a collection of essays and interviews from writers on “why they write.” It was meant to inspire the aspiring writer,… particularly me. It worked. (Thanks, Aunt Cyn. Have you read The Life of Pi, yet? Good book.)

The Writing Life was a great book for me. I can tell because, not only does it sit on my desk within arm’s reach, but its words are underlined more than any used college book I ever bought.

Within it’s pages are so many great quotes:… “An artist without an art form is a dangerous thing. It is perhaps one of the most dangerous things on Earth.”

Toni Morriso, Sula

devices,… “He was an okay guy, he was neither hot nor cold . Perhaps I was afraid someone would think he was me. So I changed his clothes, put him in a good suit and a custom made  striped shirt with a white collar. I gave him narrow feet and put good shoes on them. I didn’t need to mention any of this in the story. He began to act differently. The gulf that he perceived between him and his favorite student at the University of Iowa became more painful for him, at the same time his feelings for her became sharper. I don’t know if the story is good, but it became more alive.”

John Casey, Dogma

and advice: ” If you use a cliche in your preparation for a role, you put a roadblock in front of any further imagining. Cliches are vague, large, inert and therefore terminal. ”

Konstantin Stanislavky, An Actor Prepares

I hate cliches.

But more to the point, within it’s pages I discovered a writer, Bob Shacochis, who sums up my own feelings so closely that I have memorized his reason to write. It’s so poetic.

“No office, no boss, no paycheck. The more real fears I harbored were that I wasn’t smart enough, and that I was a person without a very useful array of obsessions. My obsessions were not intellectual, but emotional and political, and I felt I couldn’t sustain or manipulate them in a productive way.”

Now here’s where it get’s really good…

“I came to learn, however, that I only take myself seriously when I write. I write to keep myself educated and when I don’t write, I feel myself- and my intelligence- rapidly fading into oblivion, where I’m perfectly content to be the ne’er-do-well my parents were once so concerned I would become.

I write because I hold the conviction, smarmy as it may seem, that we must give back to that from which we take. Take a penny, leave a penny. What I’ve most taken from in life is the banquet table of literature. What most fulfills my sense of worth are my own attempts to contribute to this timeless feast, to keep the food replenished and fresh, perhaps introduce an unfamiliar recipe, or a variation on one of the favorites. There are no old myths, the writer Jim Harrison once said, only new people.”

And here it is, the raison d’escrive…

“But the foremost reason I write might at first strike you as petty. I write for revenge- that time-honored but somewhat clichéd motivation. Living well isn’t the best revenge, I can tell you from experience. Writing well, on the other hand, is.

Revenge against apathy, against those who are not interested in listening to the voices that surround them- wife, husband, brother, daughter, father, friend, or nameless traveler.

Revenge against the bullets of assassins, against the wild forces that trample the earth, against the terror and tragedy that is in every life.

Revenge against the Devil and, pardon the blasphemy, revenge against God, for slaughtering us in the crossfire of their eternal quarrel

Why do I write? Because I know my children’s children, and your children’s children would like to hear a story before they go to sleep, and I’d like to tell them one so that when they finally close their eyes, the story will melt into a dream, and the dream will fill the emptiness, the loneliness, and leave them with a magnificent burning image of desire to be alive, and who can say with certainty , Which is the story? Which is the dream? And which is life? I want to tell my stories with the franticness of a parent whose child is dying, as if the story can keep the child alive until help arrives.

I write for revenge against silence, revenge against the endless silence that seems to erupt, right beyond the tips of humanity’s fingers, into infinity; revenge against the silence into which we fall.

Against that silence, we move, we create. We breathe. Exhale.”

-Bob Shacochis, Breathing Space

So poetic.

Another book my Aunt recommended is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft in which King describes his muse, not as a hypnotic sprite breathing life into your dreams, but rather a tiny drill sergeant sittino g on his shoulder screaming at him to “write.” Well, my muse sometimes takes the form of an ex-girlfriend, a former boss, or an arrogant know-all crawling beneath my  skin. And on them I happily take my revenge.


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