Thursday, September 10, 2009

Voice, Process and Robert Frost


I was meandering around my collection of notebooks with quotes within their pages and stumbled across this piece of gold:

I never write except with a writing board. I've never had a table in my life. And I use all sorts of things. Write on the sole of my shoe.
~ Robert Frost~ (1874-1963)

circa. 1910

This made me question myself not only as a writer and my craft of writing, but also my overall ambition and drive. Virginia Woolf exclaimed that every writer (especially women) needs a room of their own. In Frost's case not having a table wasn't his point. No doubt having the finances to purchase a table was not the issue. Rather he thought outside the box and figured out what worked for him.

Robert Frost's personal life was riddled with grief and loss. His father died of tuberculosis, when Frost was 11, his mother died of cancer in 1900. In 1920, Frost had to commit his younger sister to a mental hospital, where she died nine years later. Mental illness plagued Frost's family, he and his mother suffered from depression. His daughter was committed to a mental hospital in 1947. Frost's wife, Elinor, also experienced bouts of depression. They had six children. Their son Elliot died of cholera, their other son Carol, committed suicide. Their daughter Marjorie in 1934, died after childbirth, and daughter Elinor Bettina died three days after her birth in 1907. Only Lesley and Irma outlived their father. Frost's wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.

He lived a life filled with much sadness and no doubt found it a challenge to find time to write. He did what Hemingway said to do: "Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail." Frost did this and will remain a positive influence on writers everywhere for years to come. Frost was honored with four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry so it's really not worth mentioning that his way really did work for him. Many have looked to one of his most famous poems for the answer.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way.

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Instead of this poem being about the regrets, one may have perhaps thought it's about Frost's way of living life. He took the road less traveled and it made all the difference. He used what worked for him, such as the sole of his shoe. A small less traveled part of his craft, his process, but one that worked and made him revolutionary.

No matter our situation, station, financial income, do we each, as writers, demand a process to encourage and nourish our voices? I certainly have not done this for myself. I write when ever and where ever I can. I've mentioned before, I write while cooking dinner and while giving my toddler a bath. Although the writing manages to get done (mostly) it's not nearly as often or as creatively motivated as I feel it should be. I still have that ache, that inner moan of unfulfilled passion.

When I went away to Wellspring House in Massachusetts I had that room of my own. It was quiet. It had amazing natural light. It had a nice view. It was comfortable. It was inspiring. I felt free to write in my way, my voice, my process. I have not managed to create that kind of space for myself within my home or my daily life.

Then this got me thinking about other writers we are all familiar with and their process as writers. Such as where they wrote. Frost used a writing board like the one seen here.

Jane Austen described her writing as being done with a fine brush on a "little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory".

Emily Dickinson used a table similar to Jane Austin. Small, confined and alone. Emily wrote at night when everyone else was asleep, however, Jane wrote sometimes in a full room.

Hemingway always had a work space. He hand wrote prose and stood at his typewriter for the dialogue.

My point is, each writer has not only their voice, but their process that in part creates their voice. Right now, as I write this, I'm laying in bed, it's past one o'clock in the morning and everyone is asleep, my husband is six inches away with a pillow over his face. Will my voice say, I'm a writer with no process? Worse still will I have no voice of my own due to no room of my own?

Jack London said: "You can't wait for inspiration you have to go after it with a club."

My club is in hand and I'm going to go after it!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"I Remember..." Winning Entry

Flames shot out like serpents’ tongues, licking the ankles of young bike riders. In fear, they veered far to the left—had a car been coming, it would have hit them dead on. This time, their instincts saved all but some of that blonde peach-fuzz that we boys all proudly considered leg hair. The stench of it burnt hung in the air, invading the odor of our sewer playground.Bryan jumped down from the drainage opening and shook his can of hairspray. His giggle sounded maniacal, but I was eight. Evil is so hard to distinguish in a cloak of fun.
“They barely dodged it in time!” he laughed.
“Just think if I had gotten his shorts!”
No children drove by for another ten minutes, so Bryan and I left the sewer, headed towards one of our homes. He lead me, three years older and naturally the alpha between us. Our houses sat across the street diagonally from each other, so I never knew which we’d play in until we got there.
“Would you like to see Sally, my new snake?” he asked.
“Another snake!” I gasped.
“Sure, show me.”
We walked through his front doors and past his two older, leering brothers. They stretched lazily over the arms of furniture, resting their sneakers on end tables. Bryan took no notice of them, but my mother sure would have.We entered his room together, and the smell of many reptiles assaulted my nose. I thought it odd that the smell of Bryan’s bedroom was indistinct from the sewer we had played in earlier.But immediately my attention fell onto a cage on the floor ten times larger at least than the next largest cage. The snake inside, which must have been Sally, slept; she must have been five feet long. I gawked, standing there in slack-jawed surprise.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” he asked.
He reached down into the cage (which had been open, without a roof) and grabbed Sally tenderly with both hands. As he raised her from the cage, the slits of her eyes opened subtly. I became afraid.Bryan draped Sally like a shawl around his neck and stroked her tenderly. I had never seen such affection light his features.
“I feed her mice, small little lab mice,” he told me quietly. “They’re the kindest, gentlest rodents, and Sally swallows them whole.”
I went home not long after that, and I skipped over mentioning Sally and the sewers when my parents asked how I had spent my time with Bryan.That night, after I had gone to bed and to sleep, one of Bryan’s older brothers fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. He had been lounging on an old, broken recliner in the attic, and the cherry had lit some of the home’s insulation. People panicked and screamed, fire trucks came and blasted, and the home burnt down, snake and all. Despite staunchly believing that there is no hidden reason behind the minute happenings of the world, I couldn’t help feeling that Bryan deserved this loss.
In some small way, I still can’t.