Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shelf Life

I'm changing up a bit--I'll continue to publish poems-in-progress on a more or less weekly basis, but will also post regular essays on whatever comes to mind. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to share and comment.

It seems terribly self-conscious when a writer writes about writing. Self-indulgent, too, maybe. But the craft and process demand a kind of discipline that fills pages with words, so that even when you’re not working on the novel or short story or poem, you’re writing. Something has to fill the page. Your fingers keep typing even when you’re not at a computer.

I recently purged a vast quantity of books, first at a big yard sale, then through donations. Over the years I had collected perhaps 1,500 books, not all great, but most of them quite good and memorable. For a long time I had thought of them as friends, but then I came to realize they—along with my even more vast collection of music CDs—represented my graduate studies. I earned my masters degree with Jim Harrison and Tim Robbins, then my PhD from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Richard Brautigan. Bach, Gorecki, Gershwin, Monk, and hundreds of more contemporary names were more than the soundtrack; they were integral to my studies.

Getting rid of the books and CDs—an act that people (with little understanding of who I am or what a writer does) often recommended—came with a certain amount of pain and melancholy. Unexpectedly, it also came with a sense of liberation, like without so many words filling my library I was free to write my own.

Of course there were quite a few that I kept, will always keep no matter how many times I have to pack them in boxes, move them, then re-organize them on shelves in some contrived life order like John Cusack’s character in “Hi-Fidelity.”

What did I keep? All of the above writers, of course, and my meager but important collection of poets. Any Nobel or Pulitzer winners I’d collected (Gao Xingjian’s “One Man’s Bible” is brilliant). A few oddities: seminal works of science fiction, Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Carson McCullers’ “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Oh, and of course the five remaining copies of my own out-of-print book, published in the ‘90s.

There’s some space on my shelves and it’s been a while since I visited a bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. Martin

    Not self-conscious or self-indulgent in the least my friend. The need for self-expression, to let the words flow forth, the desperate need for a notepad (that you don’t have when you oh so need one) when that moment of inspiration explodes in your head in a single moment – and not able to write it down, disappears as quickly as last nights dream, keep us going – yet conversely may gag us.

    It is painful indeed to purge our books, CDs, etc. – but necessary to unclutter our minds and free ourselves from our past.

    It is odd what I hang on to, can’t let go – the library books I forgot to return over two decades ago, books I have never read and probably never will, a Bible – me an atheist but I can’t get rid of it purely because it is a Bible and so on.

    Enjoy your visit to the bookshop!

    Anna :o]