Sunday, November 25, 2007

A lion's share

A few years ago, I was invited to a day-long event for a group of women writers. It was hosted by a brilliant local poet at her home. A friend and fellow writer parked right in front of me on the street. We started to walk together. She held a great bowl of salad, I had a container of hummus (more on that later this week, mother effers). The only thing our host told us about the house was that it was the fifth from the corner.

But which corner? Was it on our left or right?

We stopped, our heads tocking back and forth.

I pointed to the house on our right. "Basketball hoop," I said of the predictable fixture in the drive. Then I turned to the house on the left and looked at the ornament hanging on the porch and said, "Wind chimes." I looked at my friend. "I'm betting on the wind chimes."

"You and your eye for detail," she said.

The devil is in the details. I never take my eyes from them.

Chipped fingernail polish, black or pink? On nails that are long or short? Baseball hat, clean or dirty, backwards or forwards? Adidas with ankle socks or loafers on bare feet? It never ends.

Then there was this: I asked my father-in-law about when he asked my mother-in-law to marry him. He said, "Well, I didn't want to formally propose until I had my Carpenter's Union card."

Do I need to tell you anything else about him?

That's what it's like to be a writer. I never stop seeing the details, matching them up to their proper owners and seeing the beauty of their infinite combinations.

I love this craft.

I do my best to put it forth in these pages and other publications. Sometimes I'm more successful than others, but I never stop. The hunt for an honest kernel of the human condition never ceases to captivate me.

Hence, when the lovely Ms. Baroque bestowed a Roar for Powerful Words award upon me, I was left blushing and batting my eyelashes like a blossoming teen.

Thanks Ms. B. It's nice to get noticed.

I am supposed to list three tenets to good writing. I already covered the details, but here are two more:

Revision. No matter what you write, it will be better the second time you write it and even better the third time. I revise mercilessly. Further to something Ms. B. wrote in the post linked above, I always read a piece aloud to myself or someone else (often a Goat) in order to verify the rhythm.

Truth. This is the hardest part of writing and it often reveals itself in the rewrites. Whenever I have an emotional reaction to the material before me, that's when I know I have to dig, dig, dig to find out what drives my anger, sadness or joy. Then I have to articulate the whole movement in telling detail.

And one more:

Trust the reader. They are smart. Point them to the truth with the right details and they will draw their own proper conclusion. You don't have to rub their face in it. Respect the reader above all.

In lieu of handing out five awards, I'm going to invite everyone to write a little something of themselves in the comment section today. Give me three details that reveal something about you. They have to be good ones. Here are mine:

1. My coffee cup is hand-painted. It says "I (heart) You Mom" in thick purple letters.

2. I purchased a pair of red lace underwear three days ago.

3. I detest the new abbreviations such as "u r" instead of "you are."

So then, what have you to tell me bloggers?


deangc said...

1. In any given year, I spend more time picking out a single pair of earrings as a present for Christine than I do buying all of my own clothing.
2. My car is usually dirty. The rear window is clouded. The carpet has pine needles and dirt on it. But the suspension has been modified, and the tires sacrifice tread life for performance.
3. I carry a purse. It has wallet, phone, iPod, prescription medication, reading glasses, spare cards for the camera, chewing gum...

Anonymous said...

.... I joined the Marine Corps at 17 years of age...

.... I smoke unfiltered Camel cigarettes and love Scotch....

.... and I believe that there are wonderful, amazing, beautiful human truths in the writings of Robert W. Service....


Beth said...

1. If I go to the sink to wash my hands and the water turns dirty, I have to smile. It has been a good day. I have either been at the barn or the pottery studio.
2. I stay where I am because I am afraid of disappointing my dad. Sadly, I am just about to turn 44.
3. I have more vivid memories of things that I have walked on while barefoot than any of my other senses put together.

Anonymous said...

1. Every few months I drive 1100 miles to get from my apartment in Los Angeles to my building in Astoria Oregon. It's an old creamery building, built in 1910, that I converted into a living space.

2. Wherever I travel, I *always* take my cat with me. She's perfectly content to just sit on the back seat, no matter how long the drive. She's even been to Vegas.

3. I almost always have a glass of wine right after breakfast. But I usually don't eat breakfast until noon.

Karen at Pen in Hand said...

1. My yard is full of leaves because I decided it is more important for me to draw a picture today. This will be true tomorrow, too.

2. My daughter sprained her ankle a month ago. In the days that followed, the ankle I sprained three years ago started to hurt again. She re-sprained her ankle yesterday. Last night I woke up from ankle pain.

3. I can still blush with shame at the memory of accidentally opening a Christmas gift that was intended for my brother when I was 8 and he was 18. It was a puzzle we had been doing in school. I loved it. I was so excited my mother had bought it for me without even knowing we'd been doing it in school. She got mad when I accidentally opened it; sure enough, the tag said, "To Eric," not "To Karen."

Ms Baroque said...

Erin, you are so right about the details. They are the things that make the difference - get one wrong and the whole thing falls down. It's like the thing about shoes making the outfit.

Three telling details about me?

1. I sleep in my jewellery and make up. I know it's Bad but I still do it. My skin's great. I'll also wash my hair, put the hairpins in it and basically leave it like that till next time I wash it. Curls forgive everything.

2. I did a poetry reading last night - in a church outside London that turned out to be a thousand years old - & I'd got this great outfit together for it. As I sat there on the stage, with my cold and incipient laryngitis, pretending I wasn't feeling a bit dizzy while the other people read their stuff, I gradually realised that this is the outfit I want to wear to my dad's funeral next week.

3. Once when I was little I was with my mother and little sister. Mom said, See that lady? Sis said, what lady? I said, Oh, you mean that lady who just went past, who had a green stripy skirt and a green bag, but the bag was the wrong green?

Apogee_V said...

Erin, you once wrote 100 things about yourself, so, I thought I would try to do the same. Here are numbers 23, 36 and 77 since you only asked for 3:

23. I’ve toured a working brothel.

36. I have performed successful CPR and delivered 3 babies.

77. I’ve stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

SleekPelt said...

1. My mom's birthday was on November 18 and I forgot to call her until today, when I got a text message from my older brother telling me that she was upset about it. I feel horrible about it now. Earlier I programmed everyone's birthdays into the Google calendar, which will send me text-message reminders.

2. I haven't knowingly eaten any kind of mammal or bird for three years as of this Thanksgiving, and I'm 99.9 percent sure I never will again.

3. Ever since I started blogging and reading blogs, in early '07, I rarely find time to read literature. I've been working on Crime and Punishment for three months.

josh williams said...

1:I assembled the 9' faux xmas tree at work yesterday. I poked a fauz needle in my lower eye lid. My eye was red I puzzled over this and a coworker made me promise to go by the drug store to ask for advice, I purchased an eye cleaner,one even better than well water and my eye is just fine. I was telling a friend last night that I was certain my eyeball was going to fall out, she assured me I was wrong. Please do not tell her I was wrong, I hate I told you so's...
2. I put on shoes that did match for my workday a couple of weeks ago. They were the same brand, size and color. However they were not the same style. I had a customer point them out he told me he was hesitant because he thought I might have some sort of medical condition.
3. I have never had a spray on tan.

sevnetus said...

1. I cannot count to 3 only 1.
2. I think I hurt this girl 'cause I didn't ask her out. Said I'd see you here like those wenches at the bar use to.
3. Obediah, Obediah... I still fight like the little mouse flipping off the big eagle.

Velvet Fog said...

I like red lace undies.

Anonymous said...

1. I see my family I grew up with differently than I used to and it hurts.

2. I really do wish I was as beautiful on the outside as I am on the inside. I hate the beautiful people who say it's what is on the inside that counts... they match... how would they know.

3. I love to bake banana bread for my six year old.

shaina said...

1. I HATE it when there are posters still up for things that already happened
2. I can easily read two or three books in a day if i have the time, which I did during high school...
3. I often eat chocolate at every meal. Three times a day. or more. But i complain about my double chin.

3.25. i do not understand sevnetus' three. lol.
3.57. I love Erin O'Brien. muchly.
3.9. i have to go move my car. so i dont get a ticket.
3.99. i need to pee.


Norm said...

My originality tank is empty, so:

1) My coffee cup has a picture of the Tasmanian Devil and has a caption like "#1 Dad"

2) I took a pair of red lace underwear right off my wife last night and flung them in a random direction. Still haven't found them. Hmm.

3) I think capital punishment should be preferred for people who write "your" when they mean "you're."

Susan said...

Three things:

1. I get my hair cut approximately once a year. I leave with it still wet, even if it's January.

2. I have a special shirt I wear whenever I bake pies. I call it my "pie-bakin' shirt".

3. I own thirteen decks of tarot cards.

Erin O'Brien said...

I want to invite everyone in this comment section to a cocktail party.

Doug said...

When I'm fatigued, I like to pee sitting down, since accuracy is important.

Even if several patients tell me how wonderful I am, even if someone tells me I saved his life, I still end up feeling guilty about something.

I can waste hours playing online word games, but I have never understood the appeal of sudoku.

Bobby Farouk said...

1. Between November 2002 and July 2004 I did not once leave my home county.
2. All women scare me.
3. I was a dedicated nail-biter until age 42. Then I just stopped.

Anonymous said...

1. Two days ago I learned I am pregnant with my second child :)

2. I started learning bellydance over three years ago. I absolutely love it, and I love dancing with my troupe whenever we perform in restaurants and street fairs. I am, however, terrified at the thought of dancing solo to live music in said venues, even though I know I would do just fine and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.

3. My favorite holiday is New Years Eve, because there's always a sense of excitement and hope as midnight approaches.

CheekierMeSly said...

1. I love to pet my cat Stuey, but he licks in return. I can't stand his rough tongue anywhere except my foot, where I can also stand his claws kneading.

2. Since I started wearing plastic frames and wearing my hair shorter, every once in a while I see my grandma in my appearance, and it makes me smile.

3. I still have the red leather swoosh Nikes with rainbow laces that I wore in 7th grade.

countrymouse said...

It's always some screwed up detail that gives away a lie, isn't it?

1) Telling a lie is something I am pretty much unable to do--they just won't come out of my mouth. Or off my fingertips : )

2) For about a dozen years I forgot I was sexy.

3) My children's sensitivity, intuition and intelligence make me wish I was a better mother.

PocketCT said...

1. I have a burn on my left index finger knuckle shaped like the state of Nevada

2. I have mini disco balls on my window that at a certain time of the day make it discoball time all over the ceiling. It saw it once by moonlight which felt magical

3. Items on the table that my laptop is on: French/English dictionary, a pencil, wooden metal edge ruler, pilot roller ball pen (black), 3 cds - the top one is "Lyle", a half empty Burt's Bees coconut foot creme and an empty wine glass with red specs on the bottom.

DanB said...

1. On a trip back to Ohio for the holiday, I found that I spent a lot of time searching for things in my old neighborhood that have not changed.

2. My current favorite things are my mossy oak ball cap, my acid-free #8 pens, and the coffee mug that Beth made.

3. I still listen to my LP collection.

kelly said...

1) I clap when I'm happy.

2) I love to decorate my house, but I rarely have guests.

3) I would rather read than work.

Glass Houses said...

1. I have an unhealthy obsession with Dave Barry, tattoos, and anything pertaining to Buddy Holly.

2. I get sad when the leaves fall off of the trees. I always wonder if it hurts.

3. I nap at least once a day.

Goddessdster said...

1. I have a different journal and pen for every possible combination of moods and writing desires. Most of them have stickers on them, except the one in which I write about God.

2. Even through 14 years of ups and downs, I still occasionally look at my husband and think, "God, you're handsome," but I rarely say it.

3. I believe cynicism is a sign of a weak mind.

Amy said...

1. I believe I may have a weak mind.

2. I don't play music in the house. Most music makes me weep.

3. Sometimes I tell the truth when someone asks me "How are you?".

hoosierboy said...

1. I set a goal as a teen that I would like to have the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation about any subject. I have failed to gain that abilty. I keep trying every day.

2. I hate shoes and socks. I have made everyone in my family promise I will go to my grave barefoot. The thought of wearing shoes for eternity depresses me.

3. I wish I had writing skills.

Hal said...

1. When my episode of Nip/Tuck came on Tuesday night, I was excited, but this was tempered by the very real possibility that my scene could be cut. However, once the show began, and as it moved along to my moment of truth, any fear of ending up on the cutting room floor was replaced by the kind of giddiness I last felt on Christmas Eve night when I was a kid. When it came on, and ran intact, the worthiness of everything I had worked for and struggled with for the past 15 years when I took my first acting class multiplied by ten.

2. I made sure that a certain casting director in Seattle - who was a nemisis of mine because she would not call me in for any major project (tv series or feature film shooting in the area, particularly from about 2000-2003, when I left Seattle), and when finally pressed for an answer as to why suggested I take a beginning acting class - found out that I was going to be on Nip/Tuck, proving that the best revenge is success.

3. I honestly believe Hillary Clinton is going to win the next election, and that it will ultimately not be good for the country because she is too divisive.

Felix said...

1. Thanks to the miracle of midern technology, I now possess a good amount of The Beatles' catalogue.

2. I own at least thirty lighters, five of them on my person at all times. Hey, at least I have something to light a cigarette with.

3. I like cooking. Too bad my cooking skills leave much to be desired.