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Do the write thing (08/24/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
There is no thing as compelling as truth, when it is achieved by complete honesty.

Just as confession is good for the soul, so, too, is keeping a personal journal. The ultimate would be to share with others your memories, your discoveries, insights, and the understanding you’ve unearthed as you plant seeds of contemplation while growing deep.

Reflecting on my life, I realize that I’ve been many things at one time or another, but there’s been one constant – one single thread that has been tangled with many others, one thread that weaves together all the textures, vibrant and dull colors, and the strong and the weak. I’ve been a writer at heart from inception – that initial gasp of breath that forced me into a naked world is a collaboration I will never cease drawing from (as long as the mind is willing.)

Anyone who aspires to be a writer, a poet, or is a private journal keeper, actually anyone, would likely love reading and rereading Anne Lamott’s instructions on writing and life, in “Bird By Bird.” Her style is witty, funny, and candid, which means you can learn important stuff and not be bored silly. She comforts, “Even if you never publish a word, you have something important to pour yourself into. Your parents and grandparents will be shouting, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t sit down, don’t sit down’ and you’ll have to do what you did as a kid – shut them out and get on with finding out about life.”

Of writers, Lamott muses, “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.’ ” (Phonies need not apply!) I just started Lamott’s 2005 book, “Plan B - Further Thoughts On Faith.” I find myself smirking from page one and her chapter “ham of God.”

I’ve often noted that when a writer draws from his or her own well, the genuine article is culminated. The public demands a great deal from writers today. They find themselves competing with state of the art technology in computers, movies, DVDs, and all the scandal reporters can drum up. I recently read an article that proclaims essays today are boring, that essayists and their editors have lost the courage to address large subjects in a large way. So says writer Christina Nehring from Truthdig.

“The essay that is considered ‘literature’ in our day,” she remarks, “is not an ambitious or impassioned (if sometimes foolhardy) analysis of human nature.” “And here lies the problem with essayists today : not that they speak of themselves, but that they do so

with no effort to make their experience relevant or useful to anyone else, with no effort to extract from it any generalizeable insight into the human condition.”

I’m all ears! Feeling personally defensive, it’s often commentary like that which forces a biting turn-about from complacency, a leap outside that safety net essayists and columnists often place themselves.

Speak now or forever hold your “piece!” Many readers find the trite and smug, the unmoving blah blah blah, not worth their time or their brain’s attention.(Give them cake!)

Apart from readers’ shorter attention spans, they expect more than journalism from an essay. They want the raw meat, the guts and glory they get from novels, reality television, juicy news, and philosophical musings. Throw in some repulsive, dicey 4-letter lingo to let them know that you’re with the program, and they’ll pant for more!

However, one style does not fit all when it comes to reading material! Accomplished writers won’t sacrifice their dignity and scruples for any reader. Maybe it’s time the bored and uninspired reader cleans out the cobwebs of the mind! Read something challenging, keep a dictionary at hand, and when you get fired up – you, too, might be moved to do the “write” thing!

Go for it!

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com 


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