ISBN 0-06-016156-6

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Here is a confession: when I decided to write this blog, I realized that I would not be able to buy or rent any new books for as-long-as-it-takes-to-read-my-collection-and-that-could-be-ten-years (let’s hope not). This realization hurt. So, before I actually committed to the blog, I logged into Amazon.com and bought around nine books.

I told you I have a problem. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard was one of those books.

I read a little Dillard in school. I had the sneaking suspicion that I didn’t understand a single word she wrote. I figured she was like Orwell—if I kept reading, one day I’d get it.

Wow. Dillard. After I finished reading The Writing Life, I had to swim. A hundred laps later, I still felt like I was on the other end of binoculars. If I could just flip them around, I’m sure—

I was in traffic. I looked over and saw a woman putting on mascara. A deep peace came over me and—

Some yarn art has been popping up all over Minneapolis.

The street artist’s name is Hottea. He has an instillation at Minneapolis Institute of Arts called letting go. It is composed of over 82 miles of yarn. One can view the structure from underneath on a patch of artificial turf, or from the second floor by walking around it, or one can look down through the strands. It’s funny because the structure, while stationary, always changes depending on who’s laying underneath it.

The lyrics of ‘Your Rocky Spine’ by the Great Lake Swimmers are somehow part of this.

Do you like how I’m stringing you along?

Wait for it—

Dillard explains that when one writes, one lays out a line of words, a string one follows.

I read The Writing Life and felt that while many of her examples were specific to writers—having work related dreams, encountering those who don’t understand what it is exactly one does for eight hours of their day, neglecting the house plants—the book could have easily been titled, The Teaching Life, The Nursing Life, The Babysitting Life, The Retailing Life, or The [  ] Life, filling in anyone who has some amount of passion for their work. The book was not about those tidbits as much as it was about the string.

And the beauty of the string.

She cites Rahm, a pilot, who put on spectacular aerial shows. The smoke trailed behind his plane creating stunning lines that disappeared. Like Hottea’s work, part of the beauty was that those lines would not last forever.

A conversation between a friend and I weeks earlier:

M: The Smashing Pumpkins weren’t meant to last past the 90s.

Me: Why?

M: I used to put their album on and sit alone in my room and feel miserable for myself, and like cry. Alone. For hours. I did this over and over, but like, back in high school. They couldn’t survive past 1999, but they weren’t meant to. I would grow up. We would grow up.

Me: Is it okay I still wear flannel?

A woman putting on mascara in traffic has a line.

A life.

A string of events that carried her to that moment and past.

When I look at someone, I know they have a story. When I think of all the strings and strands that I will never see I am humbled. With Hottea’s work, I was not able to examine each string individually. I stepped back and examined it as a whole—this is the beauty, this act is the art.

Like following the length of a lover’s spine with your finger.

On the way home, not one but two Smashing Pumpkins songs came on the radio; one was a Stevie Nicks cover, Landslide, the other from a new album released in June.

I don’t know what that means, the same way I may not really understand what Dillard means. At first glance this book may seem like a collection of unconnected experiences and thoughts, but what I feel Dillard is trying to express is this: any single life, filled with all of its moments, is a work of art one follows, in the same way a writer follows their strand of words. And it is evermore beautiful because of its brevity.

I like stepping back. I like this feeling that Hottea, Dillard, Rahm, and that woman putting on mascara in traffic all have strings that are now part of my own strand. Ask yourself, what is the whole that you step back and see?

The answer doesn’t shatter me. It unravels me.

**S. told me that Hottea owns a yarn store (or worked at the store? Shopped at the store? I forgot which . . .) on 35th & Chicago in MLPS called StevenBe. If you’re interested in yarn, or just want to check out the cool mural on the side of the building, stop by.**

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4 Comments

Filed under Art, Books, Life, Uncategorized

4 responses to “ISBN 0-06-016156-6

  1. Deborah Meissner

    Loved this post, Charlie! As someone who doesn’t have a well-defined career, your words were a nice reminder that all the events, actions, moments, feelings, etc. in my life add up to beauty nonetheless. Thank you!

  2. Maggie

    I miss the 90s and their sadness. Thank you for the yarn.

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