Saturday, August 6, 2016

August 6: Learn Wildflowers, Mary Roach, Boredom

I wake up thinking: What am I reading? What will I read next? I'm terrified that I'll run out, that I will read through all I want to, and be forced to learn wildflowers at last, to keep awake.

Dillard is constantly curious.  She heads out the door, in search of muskrats or floodwaters or trees studded with light.  For her, the universe is a puzzle, full of mystery and grace, and she makes it her business to understand her place in it.  She does this through exploration and examination.  And she reads.  A lot.  Mostly scientists and naturalists and poets.  People like herself.  She's worried that her well of writers will eventually dry up, that she will be forced to do things that are less interesting to her--cleaning the bathroom, making beds, learning the names of wildflowers.

I have been grading like crazy for the last four or five days.  It's the end or the summer term.  Final grades are coming due.  I've still got a pile of student responses to grade and then final exams.  My goal:  get the papers finished today and the exams tomorrow.  After that, I will submit my final grades and be done.  Then I plan on doing some pleasure reading and writing.

I don't think that I've ever worried, like Dillard, that I will run out of things to read.  I have shelves and shelves of books from which to choose.  Poetry and novels and nonfiction.  I like to think of myself as a curious person.  I don't get bored easily.  My book bag is always filled with writing journals, art journals, and books.  If I find that I'm getting distracted or tired, I just reach into my bag.

Currently, I'm traveling with Mary Roach's book Stiff.  I have been reading her exploration of human cadavers for a couple of weeks.  It's a continually fascinating book.  However, there are times where I have difficulty reading passages about the break down of the human body.  Dissection.  Decomposition.  It really makes me focus on my own body, questioning every little bump and mole.  It's not good for a person who verges on hypochondria all the time.  I've literally had to put the book down a couple of times.

But that's okay.  A book doesn't always have to make you feel good about yourself.  A book can be challenging on many levels.  A writer friend of mine said that he hates the idea that a book always has to be interesting.  "Sometimes," my friend says, "a book can be boring, and that's okay."  And, of course, boredom is subjective.  I'm fascinated by the secret life of poets.  My sister is fascinated by vampires and ghosts.

Last night, I was reading an interview with author Anne Rice, creator of the vampire Lestat series.  She was asked about the best writing advice she ever got.  She said, "In 1977 I heard George Lucas say about Star Wars, 'We made the movie we couldn't find, the one we wanted to see.'  And I thought, 'That's the rule I have to remember.  Write the book you can't find, that you really want to read.'"

For me, Rice's advice is all about boredom, as well.  When you sit down to write, write about something that you want to read, something that you can't find anywhere else.  By doing that, you will have a book that you will want to read.  Always.  It's a pretty good rule.

Saint Marty would not write a book about undead vampire princes.  He would write a book about an unknown poet who suddenly wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and quits all his jobs and goes on a trip to Rome where he meets the pope and is declared a living saint.  Now, that would be a good book.

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