Why I Write : A Good Read.

Sometimes, in the simultaneous business and laziness of daily life, I forget how truly delicious it is to devour a good book. For as much as I love writing and reading, I don’t read books as often as I’d like. Several dozen of my favorites lay waiting on my shelves, gathering dust and whispering to me,

“Have you forgotten the moment when Michael discovers Hanna’s secret? Have you forgotten the scene when Claire and Henry meet in the library for the first time? Remember that favorite line you read over and over in Stafford’s poem, ‘the signals we give-yes, or no, or maybe- should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.’ Or the sensibility you felt when you finished The Great Divorce? Open me. Read me.”

I neglect them, thinking, I’ve read you before. I need something new, something that will take me by surprise. At the same time, I have an annoying habit of buying or borrowing books that I don’t finish. Even classics that others rave are their favorites lay half-worn and dog-eared to page 54, and the next 200 pages lay completely untouched.

So when I grabbed Bernard Schlink’s Homecoming to take with me on the train downtown this weekend, I wasn’t expecting to get caught up in it. I loved Schlink’s The Reader from the page one, but Homecoming, with all its intricacies and seemingly unrelated circumstances that surround the life of Peter DeBauer, did not earn my momentum as easily and so it lay discarded and half-read on my shelf for two years. It was the lightest book I could grab on my way out the door to spend the day in the city – just in case I had a spare moment of boredom and found myself in desperate need of distraction. Somehow in reading it this weekend I was able to push through my disinterest and finally understand Peter’s voice in the story.

I don’t think it was Schlink’s writing that was to blame for my previous neglect; I am woefully immature when I open a book. If it’s from an author I’ve read before, as is the case with Homecoming, I have a set of expectations that need to be broken down and replaced with something better than I could have imagined. The author needs to simultaneously break my expectations with something entirely different, and yet they also need to offer me pieces of them that I found fascinating in their previous works. For Schlink, he has this habit of creating highly introspective characters that take the time to ask the questions that the reader is wondering, too.

“Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever? Because things always end painfully if they contained pain, conscious or unconscious, all along? But what is unconscious, unrecognized pain?”

“What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted and obeyed in society? Or is law what must be enacted and obeyed whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right?”- Bernard Schlink, The Reader

Schlink does not do readers the disservice of trying to offer an answer. That his books revolve around post-war Germany and their attempts to rebuild after the World Wars tells us : we may never have an answer to these questions, whether on the larger scale of reconciling past mistakes as they pertain to feuding countries, genocide, or law, or on the smaller scale of personal relationships between men and women, parents and children, strangers and friends.

And Schlink has a knack for plot twisting. You can sense as you read that pieces of the puzzle have yet to fall into place, that beneath all the questions and examinations of law, culture, society, and archetypal themes, an unforeseeable truth lies waiting for you and the protagonist. Once revealed, the effect is stunningly perfect; the beguiling maze of its progression now makes complete sense, even while you wonder, mournfully, why it had to end that way for the characters.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying Homecoming so much that I almost didn’t take the time to write this post, yet reading it is so inspiring that I couldn’t help but write about it.

That’s what a good read will do for a writer, and that’s why it’s so important to continue to feed our imaginations with as many stories as possible.

Reading spurs me on toward new ideas and possibilities, and soon my well of inspiration is overflowing onto the page.

Feed your hunger for a good read, and your own page will never starve.

O’Hare, Earl Grey, Apologies and Poetry.

What a day I’ve had, friends. (And it’s not even Monday.) First, I’ll mention my utter frustration with myself. My severe penchant for untimely tardiness really distresses me. This statement seems ridiculous, but the reality is that while I am not a morning person, I really don’t intend to oversleep by nearly 40 minutes on mornings when I need to get to work early. My alarm did not go off; God only knows why. I’ll refrain from the hashing the details about the crazy dream I was having when, inexplicably, I woke with a start and realized I was late. Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as the dinosaur dream from Tuesday night. Yes – dinosaurs.
Second, the five hours that I was actually in my office today can be described in a single cliche: time to put my foot in my mouth. This is no different than any other day when I readily express my opinions before I think about how to say them tactfully, but this morning was worse than usual. It was the kind that has left me wincing and cringing for the rest of the day. Did I really say that? 
I am trying to rectify this ever-present flaw in my personality. To those who received the brunt of my mouthiness today, take comfort in knowing that my feet taste disgusting and I am truly sorry.
Third, I love Chicago and nearly every thing about it. I also love doing whatever I can to help a friend, which is why I offered to drive my dear bff to O’Hare this afternoon so that she could hop a plane to Cali for vacation. I love her, which is why I’m not upset that she didn’t take me along. My love for her is also the reason I’m simply grateful that I survived the whole experience because believe me, I almost died. Several times. Lots of wailing and pointing involved as I continued to miss exits and swerve away from other vehicles. Chicago rush hour traffic is the one thing I truly hate about living here.
Sigh. It is now 7 p.m. and I am safe and sound, sitting in Starbucks and enjoying an Earl Grey Latte while contemplating life. Our days are a series of decisions and distractions, and all we really want is to follow our calling, fulfill our purpose. It’s so easy to let things stand in our way – other people, our selves, our bank statements, our schedules. It’s easy to make excuses about why we’re never the best version of ourselves or why we said one thing when we should have said it differently (or maybe avoided making the comment at all?)
It’s also easy to be too hard on ourselves. We set the expectation that we are super-human, that because others depend on us we have to hold it together no matter what the circumstances are. We have to be on time, be prepared. We have to perfect our craft and our work before we share it with others. We have to have everything figured out.
Both ends of the spectrum keep us swinging back and forth, avoiding the middle of the road where our expectations can connect with our reality:
We are imperfect, yet we are capable.
Tomorrow is another day to try again to be the better version of ourselves. If we mess it up or say the wrong thing or receive criticism on our work, then we can continue learning and growing from it.
And so, with that thought, I’m going to make a commitment. For the first time ever, I am going to submit my writing for a local poetry contest. (Yes, I write poetry.) It’s a baby step, but a movement forward nevertheless. Enough with my expectations. Time to do.

Better Mistakes Tomorrow.

This is my new philosophy:
I am not perfect. Far from it, in fact, and it’s really been bothering me. I annoy myself, quite often.
It doesn’t help that I have this theory that writers, more than most people (except for maybe designers and politicians) are thrown over the coals for mistakes we make. Why? Because our mistakes are out there in black and white.
It’s rather crippling when you think about it. And I think about it a lot.
Like, for example, when I’m about to send a mass email to 2,000+ people, or share a Facebook status, or publish an article on a website, or post on my blog… the possibilities are frightening. I scan every word, phrase and punctuation mark to see if I’ve done it right.
… And then, let the palm-to-forehead moment commence!
Or not.
Either way, I’m terrified that I’ve screwed everything up.
This is my excuse for the notebooks full of ideas that have never been explored, the plethora of blog drafts that have never been published, the unwritten articles that float around in my head: It’s scary.
Trust me. I’m notorious as the picky, stuck-up writer that’s constantly correcting others’ spelling, grammar, punctuation and pronunciation flubs.
The truth is, I spend a lot of time worrying that someone else is judging me just as harshly. It happens! And when it does it stings, like a band aid has been ripped off and all my insides are exposed. My flaws, raw and real for everyone to see. A classic case of the pot vs. the kettle.
Jon’s first post on his new site reminded me today, though, that a plethora of unwritten articles, a notebook full of unexplored ideas and a blog full of unpublished drafts mean nothing. They don’t help anyone, least of all myself. Of course, as a writer I believe in avoiding posting the first draft of anything. But the real problem comes when I never post anything.
My old philosophy: if you can’t write it “right,” then don’t write it at all. But that’s not what this blog is about, nor is it an effective philosophy for a writer.
The true process is always the same:
1. Write.
2. Then right.
3. Repeat until you come to the best combination of fresh words and edits.
4. Publish.
5. Give gratitude (or apologize) when appropriate.
So, my new philosophy is about accepting my mistakes, swallowing my pride, and doing my best. And if I fail, at least I have a lesson to learn from.
Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfection is that nasty, cynical voice in your head, criticizing everyone around you and at the same time, telling you:
“If you try it, you could fail and that’s worse than if you never did it at all.”
In truth, perfection is envious of the freedom and confidence that others exhibit when they accept themselves as they are.
Maybe that’s why God made me a writer: it continues to teach me about grace. Our flaws are part of who we are, but they’re not the only part. The flaws don’t outweigh the gifts, and the passion that we possess to fulfill our purpose in life.
So here’s to tomorrow, to better mistakes next time, and the grace to write about it anyway.