In the afterglow of Hutchmoot 2018’s dizzying cascade of several dozens of wonderful and meaningful conversations, I can no longer remember who requested copies of the poem I read during Rebecca Reynolds’ and my tag team session on “the holy, hidden potential of human weakness.”
A few years ago, Leif Enger came to speak at Hutchmoot, the annual Rabbit Room conference. That year, he and I had both gone through sudden medical crises. We bonded then over recovery stories and continued that friendship in the form of a fairly regular correspondence. When I was preparing to release Struck, a memoir about my experience, I asked Leif if he might be willing to read it and write an endorsement. He graciously obliged, providing one of the true high points in my career as an author—support from a literary hero.
The great thing about Google is that it takes you straight to the information you want to find (or, in any case, straight to the information that the Keeper of the Algorithm wants you to find). The great thing about every other method of organizing and/or delivering information is that it doesn’t take you straight to the information you want to find.
Today we begin the closing weekend of Frankenstein with five final performances. It’s been a ton of fun to watch this show get to its feet and learn to run.
I’m at Lipscomb University this morning, about to walk in and talk to a group of students about theater, and as I do so, I’m overwhelmed by how lucky I am that I get to do this kind of work. The experience of writing a story and then seeing it incarnated in three dimensions on a stage is surreal. Read More ›
Think of every barnyard animal you know. Cow. Pig. Chicken. Sheep. Horse. Duck. Goose. Every one of those words derives from Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon). If you were to kick around the farm with the poet who wrote Beowulf, the two of you would use the same words (or, in any case, very similar words) for all the animals you saw (except turkeys; turkeys didn’t come to England until five or eight centuries after the Beowulf poet died). And, by the way, you would even use all the same words for the male and female variations for each animal. Bull, boar, sow, rooster, hen, ram, ewe, mare, drake, and gander are all Old English words. The one exception is stallion, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
When I was a boy, I read a comic book about which I remember only one scene: the protagonists are being menaced by a bad guy with a gun. They get backed into a corner (literally, if memory serves, not figuratively), and just when it is obvious that there is no way they could possibly escape, the bad guy bursts into flames right before their eyes. One protagonist turns to the other and says, “Spontaneous human combustion: what a stroke of luck!”
In an early chapter of Henry and the Chalk Dragon, La Muncha Elementary School receives a visit from two mysterious people whom Henry hears referred to as “Bored Members” and who walk around in dark suits and glasses a la The Matrix, write things in their notebooks, and terrify the creatively repressed and desperately sycophantic principal.
I often tell people that Flannery O’Connor once wrote “the eye is an organ of judgment.” Turns out, she never wrote that. When I typed “the eye is an organ of judgment” into the Google machine, the only thing that came back was a picture of me, from a previous issue of The Habit in which I had misquoted Flannery O’Connor. Sorry about that.
Every time I start a new online class, I send my students an introductory email that includes the following “Word About Feedback”:
In a recent interview with Terri Gross, the writer David Sedaris remarked, “I’m rarely the smartest person in the room. I have other qualities, but searing intelligence is not one of them.”
David Sedaris is a hilarious writer and an excellent prose stylist, so it is tempting to chalk this up to false humility. But I’ve been pondering his remarks in my heart, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in separating excellent writing from “searing intelligence.”
“If you want to be a writer, be a reader.” This may be the most commonly-offered writing advice of all. And it’s good advice as far as it goes. But encouraging writers to read has always felt to me like encouraging teenage boys to eat three meals a day and maybe a couple of snacks. People who want to write tend to be people who are already reading. I think. Right?
This whole thing—and by that I mean all of creation, from the outermost galaxies to my kitchen table—swirls around a Jewish man from the first century. He was born of woman, was a refugee, was more or less homeless, and lived a relatively short life. But his presence on the planet all those years ago changed history, and I believe he was the incarnation of God himself.