Love us some Mary Oliver!
For National Poetry Month, Mary Oliver on the mystery of the human psyche, the secret of great poetry, and how rhythm makes us come alive.
Excerpt illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton.
Clarence Hudson White - American master of photography
Above: The Watcher, 1906 - platinum print photograph (The Royal Photographic Society)
You know the little search field in the upper right of Firefox that can be Google, Amazon, Yahoo, etc? Can I make it be @wordbookstores?— Rachel Fershleiser (@RachelFersh)April 2, 2014
Yes you can, in both Chrome and Firefox! (Internet Explorer probably too, but I don’t have a Windows…
Happy Birthday to Maya Angelou!
Eartha Kitt, dropping some self-love realness.
Questions are usually more beautiful,
more significant than their resolutions,
which in fact never resolve them,
are never sufficient to satisfy us,
whereas from a question streams
a wonderful fragrance.
Masquerade and Other Stories
Geoff Dyer’s ten rules for writing fiction
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris,dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to perseverance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
And what are the books that are being published about blacks? Joe Morton, the actor who starred in “The Brother From Another Planet,” has said that all but a few motion pictures being made about blacks are about blacks as victims. In them, we are always struggling to overcome either slavery or racism. Book publishing is little better. Black history is usually depicted as folklore about slavery, and then a fast-forward to the civil rights movement. Then I’m told that black children, and boys in particular, don’t read. Small wonder.
There is work to be done.
from CLITERACY, Sophia Wallace
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
When I received this book as a present while pregnant, I smiled a little with nostalgia: what a classic. Of course, I hadn’t seen Goodnight Moon since I was four. However, when I finally started reading the book to my newborn daughter, I couldn’t help thinking: this is it? This has sold millions of copies?
Goodnight Moon has a plot as thick as my fingernail. A bunny names everything in its room, then says goodnight to each object in turn, then conks out. It takes about sixty seconds to read, ninety if you do it “in a voice full of wonder”. I spent more time reading the longer children’s books we had, and they were better at putting Noinin to sleep, even if she was less likely to understand them. Nevertheless, we kept it in our rotation, and in spite of our dismissal the book began to take on a life of its own. With our nine-month-old daughter, Goodnight Moon is one of the first books to make an impact.
I loved Emily Harnett’s post on the book, which reflects on what the story might mean to a walking and talking kid. However, as a parent who has read this book more than she’s slept (am I kidding?), I’ve wondered what this story means to pre-verbal kids that might not even understand the concept of goodnight. Because, let’s be real, this book attracts babies who would usually digest literature for fiber content. Orally, visually, and structurally—there’s something different for a baby to attend to each of the many hundred times she’ll probably hear it.
First, Goodnight Moon is a poem as much as a story. There are a bajillion children’s books out there in verse, but Margaret Wise Brown had a love for the sounds in words that emerges from slow reading. The book begins with these long “o” sounds, “room”, “balloon”, and “moon” that are built to take a suspenseful inflection. My husband and I will each say these words differently, but we both never fail to channel our inner Morgan Freeman. The later objects listed take on more and more slow and sonorous sounds. “House” and “mouse” slide across the page like a child in socks on a hardwood floor, “brush”, “mush”, and “hush” make the susurrus that is a time-tested soothing aid—some believe because it approximates womb-noise.
This soothing nature also seeps into the story’s organization. I started off the essay knocking the non-plot of this story poem, but I’ve discovered that the object-naming sequence in the book is a large part of its success. The stories we read as adults tend to have a long period of rising action followed by a much smaller period of falling action. The falling action of Goodnight Moon extends much further than the rising action, because more objects are bid goodnight than were originally named, which is true to the desire of a hyped up kid/bunny, but also like the long exhalation of a sleepy infant.
What I didn’t understand when I started watching my daughter grow is how overwhelming the world can seem when we are not ignoring 90% of it. As an adult, I might get out of my car in an unfamiliar place, see a friend and notice her new hairstyle. A baby will study the entire room until she feels secure; the ceiling fixtures, the shape of my nose, the edge of a table all have equal interest. This is partly why putting a child to sleep in a new environment is similar to landing Viking on Mars. For a baby, learning how to recognize and place the features of a room is both immensely comforting and a tool of survival.
At the same time, babies are looking to understand differences in the way objects are presented over time. I am not sure if this was purposeful or done to save cost, but a quirk of the book is that the pages alternate between garishly colored full-page spreads and close ups in grayscale of different objects. Today, a page in grayscale would be higher contrast than what appears in this 1943 original. Yet even so, these changes in coloring let the baby see the same object in a new way. The baby can see the mouse in one corner of the room on one page, on the windowsill in another, and in grayscale on a third. For a pre-verbal baby, decoding this is it’s own story.
This process of making new things old and old things new is where I want to end, because to me it is the most important strategy in the book. Wise Brown’s repetition provides familiarity, but the way she elongates the end by inserting new details mirrors the way we learn about the world, and fascinates. Even as an adult, I am drawn in by the final page. There’s warm comfort in the darkness of the objects scattered around the room, but two stand out, the toy house and the window. First, the little toy house has interior lighting. I love the assumption that this is built on—in a child’s imagination, of course the lights would be lit. The house reminds me of a child’s imagination more generally: illuminated yet inaccessible. Finally, at nine months the window is mostly outside her visual range, but I love the message that awaits her in those panes. The sky outside the windows is neon blue—not scary or even particularly dark. She is invited outside into that brilliance.
—Moira Moody is a mother of one and a teacher of writing at the University of San Francisco. Mostly a writer of fiction, you can find her more recent work at Flyway, The Front Porch Review and The Monongahela Review. She is also a contributing editor to betterthangenos.com.
[Ed: this post was sent in response to another Sensible Nonsense essay on Goodnight Moon. Read that one here!]