Thursday, June 15, 2006

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard has always been one of my favorite writers. I have been reading The Living, her 1992 novel set in the Northwest, in Whatcom County, Washington in the 1870s – 1890s. Her writing is always juicy and here her descriptions of the beauty and drama of the natural landscape overwhelm the senses. I have never been to Washington state so I have no gauge for Puget Sound and the Cascade mountains, but Dillard gives my imagination a vehicle and I dearly want to visit in person. The focus of the story is the lives of the settlers and immigrants. She has a fascination for the ways people die and the strategies their left behind loved ones learn in order to keep on going. What they did to survive and thrive takes my breath away.

I looked around my house to see what other Dillard books I have, and found The Writing Life from 1989. She tells about living on a small island in Puget Sound while writing, and how the vastness of the trees, the howling wind and the startling beauty of the ocean effected her writing. These two books are great companions, and I am continuing to dip into them one after another. It is nice to hear her voice both as the writing teacher and the storyteller. Here is an inspiring excerpt from The Writing Life:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life… Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartford, Connecticut. Recently, scholars learned that Walk Whitman rarely left his room.

2 comments:

Suzanne said...

Just found your blog and marked it as one to come back to.

I have the privilege of living in Whatcom County, of Annie Dillard fame. It was a fascinating read as all the places she describes are places we know.

Have you read "Bird by Bird" by the other Anne? Anne Lamott? I have a hunch you would enjoy it.

Best,

Suzanne
your newest reader

cloudscome said...

Wow that's cool! Is Whatcom county as beautiful as it sounds? Tell me about it.

You are right I love Anne Lamott. I read Operating Instructions and
Traveling Mercies and Plan B is on my list to get. I first heard her on NPR reading the story of when she was in the plane that seemed to be going down, and she made friends with her seatmates. Do you remember that one? I can still hear her voice telling it. She is a great story teller. What were your favorites by her?