I don't remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don't even know exist until you love a child.
Hope is not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.
E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.
It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.
We all know we're going to die, what's important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.
The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.
You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility.
I didn't need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity, I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.
Mine was a patchwork God, sewn together from bits of rag and ribbon, Eastern and Western, pagan and Hebrew, everything but the kitchen sink and Jesus.
Teenagers who do not go to church are adored by God, but they don't get to meet some of the people who love God back.
Every Sunday I nudge Sam in her direction, and he walks to where she is sitting and hugs her. She smells him behind the ears, where he most smells like sweet unwashed new potatoes. This is in fact what I think God may smell like, a young child's slightly dirty neck.
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.
If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.
Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, We *told* you not to tell. But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.
Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?
Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.
I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.
The problem is acceptance, which is something we're taught not to do. We're taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given- that you are not in a productive creative period- you free yourself to begin filling up again.
Two things put me in the spirit to give. One is that I have come to think of everyone with whom I come into contast as a patient in the emergency room. I see a lot of gaping wounds and dazed expressions. Or, as Marianne Moore put it, The world's an orphan's home. And this feels more true than almost anything else I know. But so many of us can be soothed by writing: think of how many times you have opened a book, read one line, and said, Yes! And I want to give people that feeling, too, of connection, communication.
The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising. Things could not have been more odd and frightening in the Middle Ages. But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion-not to look around and say, 'Look at yourselves, you idiots!,' but to say, 'This is who we are.
The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.
I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see.Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth.
But how? my students ask. How do you actually do it? You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.
I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
Perfectionism means that you try not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.
Writing takes a combination of sophistication and innocence; it takes conscience, our belief that something is beautiful because it is right.
It turned out this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And she said gently-that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born-and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.
I realized I was going to get through this disappointing service, and anyway, you have to be somewhere: better here, where I have heard truth spoken so often, than, say, at the DMV, or home alone, orbiting my own mind. And it's good to be out where others can see you, so you can't be your ghastly spoiled self. It forces you to act slightly more elegantly, and this improves your thoughts, and thereby the world.
I stared at the little white agates in my hand, delicate as moon drops. The mystery of God's love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog just as much as he loves babies; God loves Susan Smith, who drowned her two sons, as much as he loves Desmond Tutu. And he loved her just as much when she was releasing the handbrake of her car that sent her boys into the river as he did when she first nursed them. So of course, he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.Remembering this helped, but here is what in fact saved me: Sam came over to see what I held in my palm, glared contemptuously at my small white pebbles, and then without missing a beat slapped the bottom of my hand so that the agates scattered. He ran off down the beach, laughing with glee. It surprised me so, this small meanness, that it made me catch my breath. Boy, I thought, is he going to be hard to place.When I was young I would have felt, What’s the point of trying to be good if the people who aren’t even trying get to be equally loved? Now I just picked up my pace and tried to catch up with that rotten Sam, because I don’t know much of anything for sure. Only that I am loved – as is