Sunday, April 15, 2007

Clarification on Yesterday's Numbers, With Thanks to Wendyll Berry

I finished re-reading Wendyll Berry's The Hidden Wound last night, which really got me thinking. Toward the end of the book, he wrote:

"I realized that the culture I needed was not be found visiting museums and libraries and auditoriums. It occurred to me that there was another measure for my life than the amount or even the quality of the writing that I did; a man, I thought, must be judged by how willingly and meaningfully he can be present where he is, by how fully he can make himself at home in his part of the world."

Which made my list from yesterday seem not quite as important (though I'm still a numbers fiend, and I'm afraid I just can't shake it). Mr. Berry reminded me of all the things I left out about what I did in my 30s. The numbers might useful to a student of writing, I suppose, to see that it's possible, over the course of ten years to write a substantial number of pages, mail them out countless times, and get scripts mounted on stage and novels published. These are good things to know.

What I left out, oddly, was how grateful I am for the chance to write each of my plays, novels, and screenplays. Mostly this was possible because my wife had jobs that provided us enough income to live, while I stayed home and took care of the kids. I wrote about the things that I most needed to write about, and that's lucky, too. I wrote about faith, friendship, race, moving, love. Nothing I wrote was perfect, but it all helped me improve as a writer. (Note to students: improving as a writer does not mean that it suddenly becomes easier. It only means that I now have tools to tackle projects that weren't possible before, and barely seem possible now.)

I also left out the fact that I did a lot of things, other than writing, that informed my writing and who I am. I worked with my hands a lot--fixing up houses, laying pathways, digging gardens. I raised children and cooked dinners and dumped other people's garbage.

Wendyll Berry has me thinking a lot about community these days. I'm new to my town, so I'm still finding my way. I'm not sure how writing fits into everything, but I know these thoughts will be a part of what I write in the future.

P.S. Shame on Brookline Booksmith and the Brookline Barnes & Noble for not having The Hidden Wound in stock last night. It really is a must-read.

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