Serpent Blog

The Road: Litquake, LoveFest and Tiny Purple Fishes 

The thing is, you never do know where the road is going to take you. Our intended destinations rarely turn out to be our destinyís true intent. What we need most to see, to hear, to feel in our hearts, is given to us. It is laid out at our feet, if you look for it. If you trust the road.

I thought it was Litquake. This was Saturday October 4th. I believed I was coming into the City for Litquake. I was reading from Serpent Box at the San Francisco Public Library at an event titled Off The Richter Scale with several other authors and I was prepared for this. I chose my passage well Ė a dream sequence from the novel where a key character confronts his imminent death through six minutes of surreal and disturbing imagery filled with pathos and dread and a demon embodied in a statue made of glass.

Reading this excerpt aloud to the Litquake audience left me with a sad, soul-sick feeling. And in that moment, in that room, I began to understand the true meaning of what I wrote more than five years ago. Our demons are ourselves, twisted by fear and doubt. And we must pay attention to our dreams, all of them. Not just those that come to us in our sleep - dreams, visions and that which unfolds before our eyes as we live and breathe. As I concluded my reading, I could feel the shift of my tectonic self.

What I did not know, what I could not know, was that the scene outside of the library would leave me even sadder and sicker then the scene I recreated with my voice within. What I saw in Larkin street filled me with a different kind of dread, a dread more troubling, more heart-breaking than the fiction I concocted when I wrote that dark dream of fear and confusion just after 9/11.

Outside the library an annual event was beginning to unfold. Civic Center Plaza, City Hall, the courthouse and several adjacent streets were cordoned off and hundreds of young, scantily dressed girls and visibly intoxicated boys were streaming in toward multiple sound stages emitting gut-churning charges of thumping techno beats. LoveFest, is what they call it. A Bacchanal ritual of pot-smoking, X-dropping, booze-swilling hedonism marked by the bastardized fashion motifs of Blade Runner, Brittany Spears and a Burning Man gone awry. ĎLoveFestí is a mash-up of raves, house parties and Mardi Gras that is all fest and no love. And it made me want to weep.

I had little choice but to wade through the crowd in order to get up to Van Ness for the post-reading book signing. And I thought, no big deal. Iím a veteran of sixty Grateful Dead shows and four New Paltz Spring Fests. I can handle this. Iíve done my share of drinking, smoking and tripping. This will be interesting, I thought. So into the sea of humanity I plunged. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw and felt.

LoveFest is bleak and hollow and very sad, a self-indulgent, narcissistic symptom of a culture steeped in wanton excess, in body parts apart from bodies, the abstraction of the female form from the female soul, a shameless culture of mind-altering look-at-meís bent on voyeurism , chemical alteration and physical denial. These youth, these children, some of them clearly no older than twelve, but most between sixteen and twenty - drinking, smoking, tripping, gyrating, puking, humping, vogue-ing, posing -so lost, so numb, so out of touch with the world and themselves.

The vibe was terrifying. The air was suffused with a sort of carnal panic. It was High School Musical meets Lord of the Flies. There was no warmth, no peace and love, none of the playful esprit du corps you feel at other San Francisco gatherings. It felt dead. I stood in the midst of a teenage wasteland where the pierced and the tattooed gathered to gawk and convulse in pink feather boas and g-strings.

Up Polk street I ran, as far as I could go. I got out of that madness searching for somewhere I could use to reset myself, to ground myself again. I stood in an alley watching three junkies shooting up and I saw a sign. It read. Tropical fish. Freshwater only. A tiny little hole in the wall. It beckoned me. And I followed.

Imagine a darkened room, roughly the size of an average two-car garage with a labyrinth of walls constructed entirely of small aquariums, so lush with living iridescent plant-life that each tank glows and emits a soft emerald light so that the whole dark space is lit by ambient pools that cast flickering reflections on a wet concrete floor. The store is empty. I hear the low hum of air pumps and soft bubbling water. I walk through the maze and peer into each little tank, where I see fish of wonderful shape and coloration, many I have never seen before, most of them rare and quite small, guppy-like, schooling, flickering, completely at home in their self-contained little ponds. Hundreds of such tanks. Hand-written signs bearing Latin names. No sound other than bubbles and vibrations. Thousands of little fishes of violet, crimson, indigo, jade, living within these fecund, perfectly miniature worlds, each like some fairy realm, so alive, so marvelous and lovingly cared for, each a tiny slice of Amazonia, some African rift lake, a Mekong tributary. My heart swelled and all that darkness, all that dread, all that alien coldness I had brought in from the street, slipped away from me like some robe of sin. This was what I came for. The road brought me.

Later on I went to the signing at Books Inc. and I stood there waiting for someone to pick up my book, my view of the world, and the road. Some did. I signed the copies there at the table, eight of them, the way I sign all my anonymous dedications. Fear not, I wrote, only believe.

I believe the road is my road, and mine alone. When I walk out that door each day I have faith I will see something, just one thing, that I did not expect to see but which was placed in my path expressly for my soul. I went to LitQuake to read what I wrote about that faith to those who would listen. I lost a little of that faith at LoveFest, but I found it again in a magic little room surrounded by miracles.


Playlist for this Blog: Sins of My Father/Tom Waits, Tales of Brave Ulysses/Cream, The Only Living Boy in New York/Simon & Garfunkel, Down to the Waterline/Dire Straits.

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It turns out the Tin Man had a heart all along... 

I donít suppose I have too many readers here, not many at all who might be hanging on waiting for the next installment of the SerpentBlog. But Iíve only got myself to blame. Iíve not written here in awhile and I want to tell you why.

What I have been doing instead of writing blogs is writing stories. As much as I like blogging I like writing stories better, and thatís what I should be doing because Iíve stiffened up lately like the Tin Man and the stories are my oil.

So in the next few days or so Iím going to post the latest little piece of fiction Iíve been working on here Ė right here in the blog itself. Iím going to buck convention and let you see it before anyone else does. Iím going to let you see a rough draft of a tale written to be told by mouth.

I donít have much time to write these days. Unfortunately I have no patron. I have a job. I work now on my fiction about an hour a day and thatís not nearly enough to do the kind of work I really want to be doing. But itís enough time to write small stories of small consequence.

These past few months, every morning, Iíve taken out my oil can to lube my elbows and loosen my knees. And I like what Iíve written. So Iíll let you see that soon if you want.

The working title for this new piece is U-Boat and hereís a preview:

ďÖWe called him the captain. He was a man who spoke few words but those words he did speak carried with them the weight of one who knew the sea and all her means of betrayalÖ He had the tanned and leathered skin of a old waterman. His face was deeply lined and he had a great head of silver hair. But the thing I remember most about him was his hands. His hands were things of true ugliness and strength and they appeared to have been forged with hammers of iceÖĒ

On to business.

On Saturday October 4th Iíll be reading at the San Francisco Public Library as part of Litquake.

Saturdayís event is called ďOff The Richter ScaleĒ and if you live in the Bay Area I would just live to see you there. I have been given six minutes to read so Iíve chosen a passage from Serpent Box that I promise will deliver the goods. If you donít know it already, I love to read aloud and I write all my stories with the spoken word very much in mind.

Oral story-telling is an incredibly important and endangered form of art and expression, especially in these i-Phone, i-Pod, I-M, I-seclude-my-self-behind-a-glass-screen digital times. So please, support reading, story-telling and old fashioned human interaction by attending a Litquake event this coming week. It is a great San Francisco tradition I am honored to be a part of.
Though I realize it is unlikely youíll attend, here is the Litquake website and calendar of events:

Iíll be at the Koret Auditorium at 2pm and later on at Books Inc, Opera Plaza for a signing at 5.

Meanwhile, Iím going to get my oil can out again. My story is calling me, and I need to live. Thanks loyal readers, see you all Saturday at the temple of books Ė The SF Public Library. 100 Larkin St.


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Author of Snake-Handling Yarn Has Hit on his Hands 
From the August 27th issue of the Staten Island Advance. ... amp;coll=1

I won't re-post it here, but if you're interested please check it out.


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Back East 

ď[1] I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to youĒ

There was a lake nearby where we took the canoe early that first morning about two hours after the passing of a storm in the night. The water was flat and clear as resin and we were the only anglers upon it, just my brother and myself, as we had done countless times in our boyhood, only then in our fatherís old canoe. The air about the lake was muggy and bore a weight I had not felt in many a year. An Eastern summer. We paddled the canoe in a silence broken only by the sound of the oars as they rose and dripped and I could feel inside myself a certain shift. Something was happening, triggered perhaps by the closeness of heavy air and fecund lakefront and insect-sound and heat.

We skirted the shoreline with our poles rigged, watching for fish-sign, and flushing out the hunting waterfowl in our silent passing. There were herons of green and blue and white, and mallard duck and Canada goose and Belted Kingfishers and low-skimming swallows that nested in mud-holes beneath a low bridge we ducked under as we made for the shallows beyond to acres of lily-pads in bloom. The air alive with bullfrog calls and cicada drone. Thatís what it was, the cicadas. A neural switch thrown in the circuitry of memory and heart. Sound and smell and scene. The willows bending low over the lake, their leafy tresses dipping, trailing. Maples and Chestnut oaks filled with the sound of cicadas calling to each from a thousand hidden places, sometimes with their slow clicks, sometimes in a consistent alien buzz. The sound-scape was as omnipotent as the heat.

For all the glory of the East in summer resides in the annual return of these primeval things. Coal-black with emerald trim. As big as a manís thumb. Their caviar eyes alien and aglow, a trilobite with wings. Their sound is a summer song as sweet as birdcall, and to my mind sweeter. A distant ticking. A staccato hum. You hear it everywhere at once. A surreal warble that seems to rise and fall, rise and fade, it is a sound that permeates my heart. It sends me back to a time of mystery. The days of smallness and wonder. I cannot think upon my youth and not hear them, aloft in the Sycamores. Cicada. The rhythm of the heat.


Hereís what I knew. I had three readings in four days and one book club appearance. I spent the first night in New Jersey, the second in Brooklyn the final two in Staten Island. I foolishly rented a car. After getting lost the first day and stuck in midtown Manhattan traffic for three hours I cursed the machine and the terrible roads it traveled. Driving in New York is a bad-crazy dream.

I spent that first morning on the lake with my brother, as recounted above, and it set the tone for what became a spiritual journey akin to a pilgrimage. As I said, something inside me shifted. Something inside me awoke on the lake. Old clusters of neurons. A network of images and emotions triggered by sense Ė my skin, my sight, my ears, my nose. The human brain is endlessly marvelous. Nothing that enters is ever lost.

My subsequent trip to Manhattan all but sapped the joy out of me. I got lost. I became flustered. I missed a very important meeting with my editor, whom I had never met. I became angry and I could feel the all the venom return that I had left behind twenty years before when I forsook New York for California. The poisonous dread of manic energy and callousness. The fear. There is something about New York that is anathema to my soul. Yet, there also something there that has the power to heal me.

I missed the meeting with my editor, but I did make it to my very first book club appearance; which convened at a lounge on 96th and Broadway called Unwined. The clubís organizer is a friend of a friend named Jordana, and upon meeting her all the bad mojo of the previous three hours ebbed away. Warm, welcoming, sweet, Jordana exuded a brightness that melted the thin crust that had begun to harden again around my old New York heart.

The book club has no name that Iím aware of, but since most of the women involved know each other from working for Sesame Street (the very program that taught me to read) I am dubbing them the Sesame Street Readers. And they were wonderful to me. They didnít just read Serpent Box, they absorbed it, they lived it. They knew more about Serpent Box than I did and saw more in it than I had ever conceived. They understood the characters and they understood its themes. These women were students of books. Their questions were thought-provoking. Their kindness humbling, and their praises a blessing.

We spent over two hours together. I answered their questions and I read to them Ė something I was told theyíd not asked a guest author to do before. We shared the story together as lovers of story, as lovers of words. For the very first time I understood that I was not the one for which Serpent Box was written. The book no longer belongs to me.

[16] I resist anything better than my own diversity,
And breathe the air and leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up and am in my place.

I slept that night in Brooklyn at the home of the person who started me on my path to writing, Jonny Belt, who was the spark for Serpent Box. Something about spending an evening with him, and his one-year-old son Grady, was grounding and necessary. Jonny was the first person to see me as a writer and as we wandered the quiet streets of Carroll Gardens early that Thursday morning with little Grady in his stroller, the trees filled with cicada-din, I felt the visceral pull of return, of resurrection. I said to Jonny, This is unreal. The sound of the cicadas. You are so lucky to have them. Jonny looked up at the trees above us. He listened. You know, he said, I donít even notice it.


My first reading was at Barnes and Noble in Manhasset. But that was not until 7 oíclock, so I had the day to myself and the question I faced was, what do I do? Spend it in Manhattan? The mere thought of driving back into that city filled me with dread. So, on a whim I decide to drive to the Long Island town of Port Washington to visit my boyhood home. As it turned out, this was a momentous decision.

It had been more than twenty years since I stood before the shabby little house. The same mustard siding. The same stunted shrubs. And as I gazed upon it on that humid Thursday morning, with the cicadas clacking away lazily in the old sycamores, I shrank. I became a boy. I was struck with a profound sense of time and place, and overcome with both melancholy and joy. I traveled back in emotional time. I felt I could just walk up the driveway and enter with my hidden key and go to my old room and lay down to bed.

I wandered around the house and took some photographs and then I walked the block itself to see the homes of my old friends and those secret places where we had gathered to smoke our first cigarettes and spin the bottle and hunt out toads and snakes. I got back into my rental car and drove the neighborhood. A map of my old living, my first life. I went back to by elementary school and walked through its halls until I found room 20 where spent the sixth grade with the one teacher who had somehow reached me, a man named Walter Chaskel. I could see the ghost of him framed in the doorway. Inside, the same light, the same smell Ė book glue and floor polish.

I spent the morning in the car I had cursed, following the trails of my heartís creation. I drove to places where I was beaten in fights and where I had fished and sailed boats and I ran my old paper-route exact, noting who had tipped me and who had not, and I sat the Toyota at the curbsides where the homes of my old friends still stood bearing their exact impressions and all wrapped in the quiet of a still summer day as if sealed in amber, bewildered at my return.

I turned the car toward the Long Island Expressway. I had known that Walt Whitman was born in the town of Huntington, where his first home was preserved, and that there was an exit for this place, so there I headed and ran headlong into the most intense thunderstorm of my existence. The traffic on the L.I.E. ground to halt as a charcoal tail began to form at the base of an enormous thunderhead twelve oíclock high not five miles before me. First the rain fell, and it was blinding. I counted fifty air-to-ground lightning strikes before the hail flew. The sound of the hail on the roof, on the hood. A storm of gravel, a storm of Birdís Eye peas, like some broken snare drum beaten by a madman. Cars pulled off to the shoulder and other stalled but I pressed the Toyota on and found the exit and found the tiny road-side signs that directed me to the house. I pulled into the empty parking lot as the rain began its slackening. I was alone.

The old docent was stunned at my appearance in such a storm but he showed me the small museum and played for me the only known recording of Waltís voice, faint and crackling, and transferred from a wax Edison cylinder so that it sounded ghostly, a line or two from Captain OíCaptain. The old docent whose name was Harold bade me to sit and watch a short film until the rain stopped. I did this. Whitmanís own voice. Good God I can still hear it. When the rain did stop Harold escorted me to the house. We stood in the colonial kitchen where he took his meals, and in the room where he had slept and I asked to be alone for a moment in the room where he was born. Again, there was transference. Planets were aligning. Had aligned. Walt was in me. As I emerged into the sunlight beside the old well, the cicadas began to click.

Later that evening I read for a small gathering of friends and loved ones at the Barnes & Noble in Manhasset; the town where I was born. I read from my own novel, my creation, yet I was struck by a passage that was clearly inspired by Song of Myself, and I stopped at that moment and looked up at my little audience and made sure they knew it too. Right there, I said, thatís Whitman. And my voice cracked, because I knew that what I had written was not my story, but all stories, and that in order to write it I had stood upon the shoulders of Walt and Ernest and Dylan and Tom Waits and Cormac McCarthy and Rumi. So many more.

If my journey had ended that very night I could well count it as a great blessing, if not catharsis. But I had two more readings to go. The next was at the Port Washington Public Library Ė the place where I basically learned to read as a boy. The reading was at noon on Friday Ė 8/8/08. What I thought was that a small group of old friends would show up and Iíd read for them in a tiny corner someplace. I did not expect sixty plus total strangers in a large auditorium and a college English professor as an emcee. I was stunned. The room was packed. The gentleman who met me onstage not only introduced me, he interviewed me. He had read the book and was well-prepared. He even read passages himself. It was incredible. The discussion was lively and fascinating. Why did you write this book? Did you go to Tennessee? Are you religious? Why was Jacob deformed? Why introduce Hosea so late? How do you learn dialect? Why did you decide not to use quotation marks? And then a hand went up and a man stood. He was elderly but familiar. I knew that face. He said, ďVincent, I donít have a question, I have a comment. I am proud of you.Ē My God, it was Walter Chaskel, my sixth grade teacher.

For years I searched for him. Every so often Iíd Google his name in hopes of finding him, reconnecting with him. He was the best teacher I ever had and I simply wanted to tell him that he mattered, that he reached me, that he had an impact on my life. He was the kind of teacher that placed life-experience above academics. He introduced me to great places and great books, and he read to us, every day, in a voice that would lull me into a sleepy bliss. And suddenly there he was, sitting right in front of me in the audience.

About two months ago one of my Google searches turned up a hit. I found his name in an article in the New York Times and tracked him down through it and we had exchanged several emails leading up to my trip to New York. Having him there at this of all readings was about as fulfilling a feeling I have ever had. The student reading his own book back to the teacher who opened his eyes to the power of stories.

[20] And I know that I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe
perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing

Serpent Box has become for me (and perhaps it always was) a bridge. Not back to a former self, but to a self that was always there. Hidden. I am everything I ever was. I am the moment and the memory. Carlos Castaneda, in the Eagleís Gift, describes the essence of the self as a luminous egg-like light with an infinite number of tendrils that connect us to all things. I felt that light in Port Washington. Serpent Box has helped me to glow.

My final reading on this mini book tour was not set in a house of books or a house of learning but in a house. My mother wanted to do something for me in recognition of the Serpent Boxís release and she graciously set up and event at her own home on Staten Island. It was a catered affair that took place in her lovely backyard, and included relatives and old friends and most of the people that mattered to her, so I felt more anxiety than I normally would before a reading. When I read at a bookstore I am standing in front of book-lovers. An avid reader is always prepared for a journey of the heart and imagination and I am confident enough now in Serpent Box. I know I can hook you. I know I can suck you into its world and make you see what I see and believe what I believe. But in my motherís backyard were not the typical readers I encounter. Many (as they confessed to me later) never read at all. So I was more nervous than usual when I was introduced to this rather raucous crowd who had been drinking, and reconnecting with each other that afternoon by telling their own stories in their high-volume, high-energy New York manner. New Yorkers are story-tellers and good ones. The oral tradition is alive and well in the East. Could I enthrall them? Could I capture these tough New York hearts with a story of a boy set in the South? I didnít know for sure, but I had an idea. I would read an excerpt designed to convert unbelievers.

Chapter 15 of Serpent Box is called Slaughter Mountain, and it recounts a tent revival where identical twin preachers attempt to handle a wild African Cobra before a large congregation of the faithful. It is a fire and brimstone affair designed to arrest the attention of the faithless and bolster the hearts of believers. It is one of my favorite chapters to read aloud. I read it that afternoon with the fervor of a prophet, and when I stopped reading the crowd sat in stunned silence. I had moved them. I could see this by the looks on their faces. My fictional sermon broke through. I brought them to me through a story I wrote in the weakest moment of my life. How could I not be humbled by this?

Later on that evening after the guests had departed and as we were cleaning the deck I was on my hands and knees with a dust pan and broom trying to sweep up behind a potted plant when I found something I had not seen in many years. I recognized it immediately. It was the husk of an insect. An amber, translucent shell about the size of a peanut with two bulbous eyes, six jagged legs and a slit up the middle where the adult had cracked itself out of its larval form. A cicada. You find these on the trunks of trees and on fence posts. I used to collect them when I was a boy. Theyíre quite fragile and a little frightening, like something H.R. Geiger might conjure from a dream. I carefully stowed the husk in my luggage and brought it home.

[31] I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.

On the lake that morning we hardly spoke. There is no need to speak between us, for everything that could be said has been spoken. The language of brothers is in the eyes and in the heart. There is a stillness in this. A quiet joy. Try the reed bed over there, I might have said. Letís see what we can find beneath that fallen willow. Those were the hours I traveled for. Alone on the lake with the one who knows me as I know myself.

If you spend any time at all on the water you know the feeling of fish. You can sense them. You become attuned to the conditions under which they rise and feed. The lake that morning was pregnant with living. We saw the fish. We saw them dart and we saw them jump and we felt them hit our spinners and our jigs. Moments after the rain, as insects fall from the trees, as worms and grubs wash in with the runoff, the time is ripe for fish. But alas, we caught nothing. And it was no matter, that. For fishing is not about catching. Fishing is being close to home. Fishing is listening, and watching, and absorbing that which we have lost Ė a certain union with the mystery. We are of the water, we are of the grass.

[52] I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love.
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.


All quotes are from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

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The Birds 

The Birds

ďWe all know weíre going to die; whatís important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.Ē Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

The thing was, I thought I might never write again. This was a month ago. I was all but defeated and I lost my faith, not because of the writerís block or the endless rejections or because I was not published. I lost my heart because I was published. It was the publication process specifically. That cold, reality that hits you like a cancer diagnosis.

It sets in about a month after the book hits the shelf. There are a few reviews, a handful of readings and some brief mentions in the press. And then suddenly it stops. It gets very quiet. Bookstores donít let you read because you ďdonít drawĒ. Your publisher doesnít want to allocate any marketing dollars because youíve not ďcaught fireĒ, and you are told by your peers and your agent and your editor alike that the success of your book is on your shoulders now.

Itís just not enough to struggle for years to create something real and true and from your heart. Itís not enough to endure the process of finding an agent, of selling a novel, of preparing it for publication. That trail of tears is only the beginning. For when you arrive, the great rock that is your heartís creation rolls back down the mountain and you must become Sisyphus, and put your back into a new ascent.

So, about four months after the release of Serpent Box, I wanted to quit. I wanted to burn all my notebooks and drag all my unfinished stories into the recycle bin and hit empty, because why write? What is the purpose of writing, of signing with a big publisher, of spending thousands of my own dollars and hundreds of my own hours building websites and book trailers and blogging? How can I be a father, a husband, an employee, a promoter, a writer all at the same time? Where do I even begin? Well, I know what Anne Lamott would tell me. Bird by bird, sheíd say. You take it bird by bird.


It was the first book I ever read on writing. A slim, pithy volume of anecdotes, aphorisms and instructions that gave me the courage and confidence to begin a whole new life. Bird by Bird was my gateway into the writing life, or perhaps I should say the writing mind. When I read it for the first time in 1997 I had written a total of two bad short stories. I was no writer. But that didnít matter to Anne Lamott. There was a writer inside me, and somehow she knew this.

Bird by Bird helped me understand many things about writing that I felt intuitively yet could not articulate or confirm. The struggle of a writer. The daily commitment to the blank page. The trust in the subconscious. The faith that, through desire, persistence and a humble dedication to craft, something worthy of reading would emerge from your heart. Anne Lamott humanized writing and writers so that I could believe I could do it and be one.

Iím reading Bird by Bird again, for the first time in ten years because Iím suffering a new crisis of faith. Iím having trouble believing not just in me, but in writing itself. Why do it? To what end? The publishing industry and the book business is so awful. Itís a machine whose mechanisms work against those who provide the product that sustains it. The writer who seeks to create something different, something non-commercial, something with a little soul, is in for a shock. I tell you plain the business of books has sullied my heart.

So here I am, reading this book that I turned to so long ago for direction and answers, and what Iím discovering is just how much of Bird by Bird stuck, how so many of Anneís words and ideas about writing and story not only made it to the pages of my own work, but into the fabric of my writerís heart.

In order to be a writer you have to learn to be reverent.
Yes. We humble ourselves before the world, before the page. We ask for direction and clarity and courage, and we ask it in the manner of a supplicant before his God.

Writing involves seeing people suffer and finding some meaning therein.

You write through the pain toward the joy. If there is no meaning to this why live at all?

Hope is a revolutionary patienceÖAmerican novels ought to have hope.

Hope for oneself. Hope for mankind. Hope. A transformative belief in goodness and in the meaning of what we see and feel. And that all things do in fact have significance and lead toward a better understanding of ourselves.

Good writing is about telling the truth.

My truth which is your truth because all truths are shared.

There is a door we all want to walk through and writing can help you find it and open it.

You donít need Prozac and you donít need the booze. You donít need a therapist. Answers are found sometimes by asking questions and you donít really need the answers anyway. Just the questions are often enough. Writing is asking questions.

Donít pretend you know more about your characters than you do, because you donítÖPlot grows out of characterÖDonít worry about plot, worry about character.

And worry I did. Never letting the story control me, but letting its people. I wrote my first novel by watching and listening to its people.

Plot is: what people will up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldnít.

Every single one of my characters wound up doing things that on its surface, seemed crazy. But it all made sense in the end and of course it could not have happened any other way.

Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself.

And I had to become a master hypnotist. Look at me now. Iím doing it again. I am devising ways to convince myself that I am worthy of this very small gift, and that I am sane. And I have discovered that many of the tools and tricks I use to cajole myself to keep going were given to me by a woman I never met who sat down like I did and wrote something out of her heart as a gift to those who would follow her down that treacherous path a writer of good conscience must travel each and every day.

Bird by Bird. Little by little. One step at a time, one day at a time. You focus your attention on what is right in front of you, right there, the small things. The birds are the things we write about, which are the things we care about, the things we believe with all our heart. And those things donít happen fast. They donít happen without strain and effort and patience and time.

(The) truth is beyond our ability to capture in a few wordsÖ(and) there will need to be some sort of unfolding to contain it, and there will need to be layers. Bird by Bird

Our living is like this too. We stumble upon great truths by gathering small ones. If we observe closely, with the most sincere humility, the people and the places that claim our attention through their proximity alone, through their seemingly random placement in our paths, we begin to see ourselves reflected in them. For we are not separate from any thing or any one.

This flesh is but a memento, yet it tells the true. Ultimately every manís path is every otherís. There are no separate journeys for there are no separate men to make them. All men are one and there is no other tale to tell. Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing.

Why, in Godís name, do I write?

I write to help me discover and pull back the layers. I write to assemble in one place a series of relevant truths and thus understand something greater. About the world. About myself. I write as a defense against fear and doubt and yes, anger at the ugly, unjust world, but also I write to express joy at that same world when it is beautiful and just. I write to create small order out of this great chaos, and to rise above, or perhaps filter out, the din of this mad living. I write to remember. I write to see. And I only share it with you, with other readers, because I so desperately seek communion with those who believe in the power of words to change and transform and unify the living and the dead. Words, which are birds. Birds which are tiny, fragile things encased in feathers, things that defy the forces that fix us to the spinning earth, that hold us down, that hold us back. Words are the crude ciphers of a heart bursting with joy and confusion, the visible proxies of sounds that are cries of exultation and pain.

So out of my despair has come a new hope that is really an old hope, the hope that through words and language and story I can change a tiny part of the world, and this is the hope that started me on my writing path in the beginning. Because writing, true writing, is not about being read or published or sold, itís about discovery. I have discovered again why I write. By going back to Bird by Bird, by going back to the place where I first drew a cup from the well, I have realigned myself with what is important about writing as a means of communication and a way of looking at the world.

This is a letter of humble gratitude to Anne Lamott. Who gave me courage, who stoked my faith. And I would like to give you, Anne, the product you helped me to create. I hope to meet you so that I can place into your cupped hands my little collection of birds, Serpent Box, my story about a boy in search of his faith, in search of his meaning. For he too is a gatherer of birds.

If anybody know how I can get in touch with Anne, I will send you as a thank you gift a copy of Serpent Box. VLC


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