"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ten Things Playing the Piano has Taught Me About Writing

From MaltaGirl

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
2. Don't rush: Being good takes time.
3. Don't be afraid to experiment.
4. Listen. To everything.
5. Let yourself go. Loose sight of reality. When you come back to it, everything will be different.
6. Learn through imitation.
7. My piano teacher has a sign on her wall that says, "All pianists must have wrists of butter and fingers of steel."  How about, "All writers must have hearts of butter and minds of steel."
8. Don't be rigid. Fold yourself into your piece. Be flexible.
9. Each new accomplishment is a kind of amnesia. You forget about the pain that went into learning/writing the piece. And best of all, you know it was all worth it.
10. Share your work with anyone who will listen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Letter to My Former English Teachers

Dear Former English Teachers,
        You may remember me...or not. I'm the one who wrote passionate, page long answers to your questions like "What is your favorite book?"and "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" and you'll be happy to know that I can tie To Kill a Mockingbird into just about anything (and I did, in an essay on the AP English Language test yesterday-I'm not allowed to talk about specifics). But enough about me.
        I'm here to talk about you. Collectively, you are the craziest, most passionate group of people I know. Some of you were odd balls, or just plain grumps, but I understand how teaching long enough can make you that way. You each have your quirks: one of you is afraid of hair (Journalism teacher), another of you used to teach 3rd grade math and made us play math games in class, and you, my current english teacher, are obsessed with Batman and John Keats (nicknamed Junkets). And I love you for it. Even the teachers I'm not particularly grateful for have taught me something, even if it's only, "Don't grow up to be like her." 
        And without you, ALL of you, I might never have discovered my love of language. The books we read in elementary school stay in my memory to this day. And the books after that, and the books after that. Harper Lee, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Alice Walker. Their voices stay with me. I can hear the words running through my mind, and what I was feeling when I read them, and what I was feeling when you talked about them in class. Your voices run together into a collective voice, at times passionate and inspiring, and at times serious, asking the tough questions, telling me to think harder than I am. 
        You teachers don't get much recognition. Chocolate, maybe, at Christmas time, and lots of Barnes & Noble Gift Cards. But real recognition? For everything you do? Every day, you deal with math loving *shudder* middle schoolers *shudder*. I'm sorry I never told you how I feel. I hope my love of English was evident in my writing. I hope, even in those dark ages known as middle school, that you knew I cared. You were the ones who planted the spark. The spark that makes me sit down and write every day. The spark that keeps me up to all hours of the night, reading. The spark that makes every essay a personal challenge to outdo myself, and every question like "What is your favorite book?" a dissertation.
         So thanks for being there. For pushing me when I needed pushing, and praising when I needed praising. Thanks for showing up at awards ceremonies. Thanks for showing up, period. Because even if we seem like thankless slobs who can't even remember to do our homework, we will never forget you. And that's the truth.


On a loosely related note, this is what our current english teacher wrote about John Keats on out final exam review sheet:

"In order to adequately prepare for the rest of your life, you must learn to embrace John Keats [know the glorious date of his birth, know that Fanny could never deserve the greatness of his love, and know that "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" is his most truly awe-inspiring poem!]"

Yeah, she's cool, right? And for those of you who are interested, here is my summer reading list:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Started reading it but never finished.)
How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (Same as above.)
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Never read. Excited about this one!)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Finding Your Own Inspiration

(Before we begin, I just wanted to take time to acknowledge that this is my 50th post on The Blank Page!)

Today, I found this:

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Thank you to Bethany Suckrow for posting this on her blog. It's pure luck that I even stumbled across it, but I'm so happy that I did!)

This poem is truly amazing. Despite it's beautiful use of language (so simple, yet so meaningful!), I can't help feeling that it was meant for my eyes. One of the things that I've always found inspirational is wild geese. Don't ask me why. I don't even live in an area where I am able to see them in real life. But I find them the most majestic creatures, and just thinking about them makes my fingers itch. I want to write about flying. And autumn. And the crisp, cold air rushing beneath their feathers. And what it must be like to approach a deep blue lake in the evening, descending, slowing until it feels as if you can't stay aloft any longer, and then gliding seamlessly into the water below. 

But, as is the nature of inspiration, wild geese may not ignite the same passion in you. You may be inspired by summer rain, or the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, or something that, while I might find it interesting, may not give me the same electric shock that it gives to you.

The important thing is to find what inspires you. It might take a while. But if you hit a road block, don't give up. Keep growing and experiencing new things and eventually you will know where to look. And once you find it, chase it. Because what good is inspiration if you don't use it as such? 

ps. One of the best "goose books" I've read, besides The Goose Girl, is The Fledgling by Jane Langton. Don't be scared away by the fact that it's a middle grade novel. It is superb! (Actually, it's hard to put these two books in the same category. They are so different, but so good!) Also, going along with our goose theme, Fly Away Home is a wonderful film and right up there with my favorite movies of all time. (The music is beautiful, as well!)

pps. Feel free to share your inspiration in the comments!