The last excerpt from my PYI keynote in a series that started in December 2011…
I rather like it that the last installment of this ‘spectacular’ and ‘inspiring’ Packaging Your Imagination’ keynote is landing at the start of the new year. I hope it will inspire you in whatever your undertakings may be this year…
Thanks, everyone, for hanging in for my Intimate Examination of Sock Fluff.
When Karen called me last week, about today, she asked of me only that I “be inspiring”. My first thought was to share with you one of my favourite quotes about writing, one that I go back to time and again, when the rough and tumble of the writing life tosses all my sock fluff and whatever fluff I might be writing together in one dull, grey lump in the lint trap of my heart.
This is E.L. Doctorow. He speaks of writing a novel, but what he says applies to lots of life.
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can’t see any farther ahead than your headlights shine, but you can make the whole trip that way.
What Doctorow says reassures me that indeed I can keep on with this troublesome project, I can go on with whatever challenging journey I happen to be on, if today, I don’t worry about what might be beyond where my headlights are shining.
The morning after Karen called me about taking on today’s keynote, I woke in the wee hours with another idea – about the inspiring nature of Sock Fluff. I got up and made some notes, then, at 6:30 or so, I went back to bed with a cup of tea, to read a chapter of the book I was caught up in then.
Here is one paragraph of that chapter. This is narrator Marion Stone, telling readers about another road. It’s the kind of prose that, for me, begs to be read aloud.
I pushed out the wooden shutters of my bedroom window and climbed onto the ledge. Sunshine flooded the room. By noon the temperature would reach seventy-five degrees, but for the moment I shivered in my bare feet. From my perch, I could see beyond Missing’s east wall onto a quiet meandering road which descended and then disappeared, the hills rising just beyond, as if the road had gone underground before it emerged in the distance as a mere thread. It wasn’t a road we traveled or even one that I knew how to get to, and yet it was a view I felt I owned. On the left side, a fortresslike wall flanked the road, receding with it, struggling to stay vertical. Giant clusters of bougainvillea spilled over, brushing the white shamas of the few pedestrians. There was a quality to this pellucid first light and the vivid colors that made it impossible to imagine trouble.
If you’ve read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, you know that the road will feature in Marion’s life again later in the story. Even if you haven’t, you can probably guess that it will, because of the weight he gives it in his description. And as you can likely guess, there will be trouble.
I read that paragraph from Chapter 23 of the book and I came to this thought:
There is nothing more inspiring, if you’re an artist – or more instructive – than exposure to the work of other artists. It’s not a very playful thought. Besides, just as I love symmetry on my odometer, so I do, to some extent, in my writing, whether a picture book story, a biography, a short story or novel-length work of fiction – or a speech. So, let’s get back to where we began.
I doubt there’s another poem about sock fluff to be found anywhere, but surely we can get back to where sock fluff is most often found? Indeed. Another of my childhood favourites fits the bill perfectly. And so, to close, “Mud” by Polly Chase Boyden: